Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tao Warrior

In Shaketown, the character Wo Sam was a paragon of Taoist ethics, though his compassion became severely challenged as he moved further into the world of the tongs. Taoist propriety emphasizes the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos; health and longevity; and wu wei (action without effort--what we in the west might call "instinctive action" or "flow"). Harmony with the universe and its source (Tao) is the intended result of Taoist practices.
Religious Taoism traditionally features reverence for ancestors and immortals along with a variety of divination practices, including the throwing of Kau Cim, fortune sticks. Clerics of religious Taoism often take care to note distinctions between their ritual tradition and the customs and practices found in popular ("folk") religion. Chinese alchemy, astrology, cuisine, Zen Buddhism, several Chinese martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui, and many styles of qigong have been intertwined with Taoism throughout history.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Following the Tao

In Shaketown, Sam Wo visits a Taoist temple in San Francisco's Little China. Taoism (pronounced and also spelled Daoism) refers to a philosophy and a religious tradition that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao, the source and essence of everything that exists. The Chinese word Tao is usually translated as "way", "path" or "principle"; the word Tao can also mean "reality" or "nature". The proper path in life, says Taoism, is one that works in harmony with reality, the essence of the natural universe.
Religious Taoism has been institutionalized for centuries and has been influenced by a variety of cultures and traditions. Today the philosophy exercises a profound influence on modern thought worldwide.
The primary work of literature expounding Taoist philosophy is the Tao Te Ching, containing teachings attributed to Laozi, "the Old Teacher". A number of widespread beliefs and practices that pre-dated the writing of the Tao Te Ching were also incorporated into religious Taoism. After Laozi, the inherited beliefs and practices of Taoism continued to evolve. The philosophy, its literature, and the religious rituals profoundly influenced the culture of China and surrounding societies in Asia. The book most often translated into English after the Bible is the Tao Te Ching.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The REAL Nellie Bly

In 1890, at 25 years of age, Nellie Bly became the most famous woman on earth. In Shaketown, Cayley was so impressed with her efforts, she fought for her own independence.
In 1880, Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was hired by a Pittsburgh (PA) newspaper  after she wrote an intelligent and scathing rebuttal to an article; she took up a nom de plume taken from a popular song: “Nellie Bly”. Her early writing focused on the travails of working women, but she was eventually pressured into writing about fashion, gardening, and society tea-parties--the women’s section.
She quit and spent a year in Mexico, but returned to the States to take a  job offered by Joseph Pulitzer. Her first story held the New York World's readers spellbound: she went undercover as a patient into New York’s Women’s Lunatic Asylum, revealing the brutality and neglect uncovered there. Nellie Bly became a household name.
In November of 1889, she attempted to beat the mythical Phileas Fogg's journey in the Jules Verne book “Around the World in 80 Days,” saying she could make it in 75. Bly followed the route proposed by Verne scrupulously, traveling with one tiny suitcase, writing that “if one is traveling simply for the sake of traveling and not for the purpose of impressing one’s fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one.”
She landed by steamer in Oakland (not San Francisco, as Phineas Fogg did), and arrived back in New York seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds after her departure— a record for circling the earth. New York greeted Nellie with fireworks, brass bands and parades. Songs were written about her, dolls and games were created, and her face and name appeared on posters, and advertisements; Nellie Bly had become the most famous woman on earth. The epitome of the gilded age's "New Woman", Bly said, “It’s not so very much for a woman to do who has the pluck, energy and independence which characterize many women in this day of push and get-there.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ghosts of Angel Island

Angel Island Detention Center, 1910
Many early Chinese immigrants to San Francisco and beyond were processed at Angel Island, now a state park in San Francisco Bay; more than 97 percent of the immigrants processed on Angel Island were Chinese. Unlike Ellis Island in the East where prospective European immigrants might be held for up to a week, Angel Island typically detained Chinese immigrants for months--sometimes up to two years--while they were interrogated to validate their papers. Some detainees expressed their feelings in poetry carved into the wooden walls of the detention center; some of these poems may still be seen by visitors today.
In 1940, a fire that destroyed the administration building caused the government to decide to abandon the Immigration Station on Angel Island. The "Chinese Exclusion Acts," which were adopted in the early 1880's were repealed by Federal action in 1943 (by that time, China was an ally of the US in World War II); in conjunction passage of the War Brides Act, Chinese-American veterans began to bring their families to American outside of national quotas, leading to a major population boom during the 1950s.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tongs in Chinatown

Unlike Shaketown's English-speaking Wo Sam, most Chinese immigrants arriving in the United States knew only various dialects of Cantonese, one of the major branches of Chinese spoken in the Zhujiang delta. In the late nineteenth century, most Chinese immigrants saw no future in the United States; assimilation was impossible. Legally discriminated against and politically disenfranchised, Chinese Americans established their roots in Chinatowns. They developed a high degree of tolerance for hardship and racial discrimination and maintained a lifestyle similar to that formerly enjoyed in China. This included living modestly, observing Chinese customs and festivals through social or political organizations (tongs) and family associations that represented the collective interests of persons with the same family names. These organizations acted to arbitrate disputes, help find jobs and housing, establish schools and temples, and sponsor social and cultural events. Some organizations (such as the fictional Chee Kong tong that Wo Sam and Wo Li join) became powerful and oppressive, growing rich through smuggling, the opium trade, gambling and prostitution; by the early 1880s, the population had adopted the term "Tong War" to describe periods of violence in Chinatown.