More than four decades after putting down his pen, former premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), who wrote several series of martial arts fiction under the pseudonym Shang Kuan Ting (上官鼎), is ready to make a comeback.
He is scheduled to release his latest novel, a five-volume martial arts fiction titled The Sword of the Kingly Way (王道劍), in April, after 15 months writing it in honor of a deceased friend.
Shang Kuan Ting was the pen name jointly used by Liu and his two siblings in the 1960s, during which they penned about 10 novels in an effort to “earn extra pocket money.”
The new 880,000-word-long novel is set in the early years of the Ming Dynasty, during the outbreak of a three-year-long civil war that led to a centuries-old mystery regarding the whereabouts of the ruler at the time, the Jianwen Emperor (建文帝).
The war began in 1399 when the Prince of Yan, Zhu Di (朱棣), sought to usurp the throne from Jianwen. It is widely believed that Jianwen was killed in a palace fire, but there have also been rumors that he survived the political turmoil and later became a Buddhist monk.
“Don’t you think it is unbelievable that an emperor just disappeared off the face of the earth like that?” Liu asked at a marketing event for his new book earlier this month in Taipei.
Liu said it was the sudden passing of one of his close friends two years ago that prompted him to pick up his pen again.
“I visited my friend’s company in Ningde City in [China’s] Fujian Province, and was impressed by how he had incorporated the spirit of the Chinese culture’s ‘kingly way’ into his firm’s management and operations,” Liu said.
The “kingly way,” or wangdao (王道), is a Confucian political concept that advocates ruling by moral rightness and benevolence.
Liu said that during his visit, several Chinese historians told him about the “latest developments” regarding the mystery surrounding Jianwen, including the discovery of an ancient tomb in the city in 2009 that was designed and decorated in a manner befitting an emperor and included Buddhist-style architecture.
The discovery of a monk’s robe, believed to date back to the Ming Dynasty and embroidered with patterns of five-clawed golden dragons — a symbol of the Chinese emperors — also strengthened Liu’s belief that Jianwen, with the assistance of his supporters, had managed to escape by shaving his head and becoming a monk.
When asked if his latest work drew inspiration from the current political situation, as most martial arts fiction does, Liu said: “Since history always repeats itself, it is inevitable to find some parts [of the series] reminiscent of current events.”
Liu said that although the philosophy of the “kingly way” had long taken a back seat to tyranny and arbitrariness in the past, it had become more prevalent in the 21st century as people began to emphasize sustainable development and take into consideration the needs of future generations.
“The ‘kingly way’ concept can be applied to politics and business. However, it can only be put into practice with the support of a powerful force; otherwise it would be just another topic of empty talk,” Liu said.