An award-winning Taiwanese martial arts novelist said recently that the inspiration behind the lead character in his latest novel, scheduled for publication today, is a “betel nut beauty” the author once taught.
Shih Bai-jiun’s (施達樂) Lang Hua, which translates as “spindrift,” is based on Taiwanese history and won the sixth Wuxia Novel Contest held by Taiwanese publisher Tomorrow Studio Co last year.
Shih is the first Taiwanese writer to win the contest, which is open to wuxia, or martial arts, writers from all over the world.
Shih, an associate professor of information systems management at Tajen University in his Pingtung County hometown, said he often uses real-life people as the basis for the characters in his novels. Examples include Chen Shu-chu (陳樹菊), the Taiwanese vegetable vendor and philanthropist who was named in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world last year.
“One factor to determine whether someone is a hero or not is to see if they live for the people,” Shih said when discussing his heroine in Lang Hua.
Set toward the end of the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century, Shih’s latest work addresses stories surrounding real-life, Taiwan-based pirate Cheng Chih-lung (鄭芝龍), his son Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功), also known as Koxinga, and Shih’s fictional female character, Lang Hua-chi.
A princess of a plains Aboriginal tribe, Lang Hua-chi is described as a woman who uses her martial arts skills to protect her tribe.
Shih said the character was inspired by one of his night-school students, whom he called “Hana.”
Hana sold betel nut from a roadside stall to support herself and pay for her tuition.
Although she almost always wore low-cut tops and lingerie-like clothes to school, Shih said she was a hard-working student who passed her tests and earned more than 10 computer science certificates.
When Shih asked her about her plans after she graduated, Hana replied that after making enough money, she would open betel nut stalls on both sides of a freeway interchange in southern Taiwan so that girls without families — like herself — could work and go to school.
That night, Shih said he decided to write a story based upon a character inspired by Hana, who tried to help and protect others.
The publisher said Shih, who has published two other martial arts novels set in the period of Japan’s colonization of Taiwan, has been a frequent entrant in the novel competition.
The contest was established in 2005 in memory of Sayling Wen (溫世仁), the late vice chairman of Inventec Co, who was a devoted fan of the genre and founded the publishing house in 1998.