Alice Poon

Alice Poon is a writer based in Richmond, British Columbia who recently published her first novel, The Green Phoenix. Born and educated in Hong Kong, Alice grew up reading Jin Yong’s martial arts and chivalry novels, all set in China’s distant past, sparking a life-long interest in Chinese history.

The Green Pheonix_Alice PoonHer new historical novel The Green Phoenix, set in 17th century China, was released in September 2017 by Earnshaw Books. Alice is also the author of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, which won the 2011 Hong Kong Book Prize and the Canadian Book Review Annual selected the original English Edition as Editor’s Choice (Scholarly) in 2007.

INTERVIEW WITH ALICE POON

Q: Your novel centers upon the violent transition from the Ming Dynasty to Manchu power from the northeastern reaches of the empire. With that came enormous political, social and cultural changes that eventually resulted in a tottering empire by the end of Emperor Puyi’s reign. What drew you to writing about the start of the dynasty?

A: There are perhaps two reasons. The first is that a lot of fiction (and non-fiction as well) already exists in regards to the end of the Qing dynasty, but far less, comparatively, has been written about the start. The second reason is that there are always lessons that can be learned from a violent regime change. From the Ming/Qing transition, we see how the late Ming Court became incorrigibly corrupt, self-serving and oblivious to the grassroots’ grievances and plight, and how that ultimately led to the Empire’s collapse. It is also interesting to note how the fledgling Manchu (Qing) regime eventually managed to win over the hearts and minds of the majority Han Chinese subjects, under the leadership of Xiaozhuang, Shunzhi and Kangxi, who all championed respect for cultural and religious diversity and harmonious coexistence between the different ethnic groups.

Q: The Qing rulers, being ethnic Manchus, were often regarded as foreign interlopers and cries for dynastic reform were often rooted in anti-Manchu hysteria. Does this historic sentiment influence your narrative in any way?

A: As I understand it from reading official historical publications, as much as there were anti-Manchu factions in the early stage of the transition, there was no lack of Han Chinese scholars and commoners who, being utterly disillusioned with the corrupt and degenerate late Ming regime, only wanted a competent ruling authority that was capable of restoring peace and giving them back a normal life. When Xiaozhuang, Shunzhi and Kangxi proved to be benevolent and open-minded leaders, the Han Chinese eventually gave up their resistance to Manchu rule. It shows that the trump card for rulers is humanity, irrespective of their race. It was this sentiment that influenced my narrative.

Q: In spite of the many men who wielded huge influence in China, there is no shortage of powerful women, including Empress Wu Zetian, Cixi, Soong May-Ling and Madame Mao. Your lead character is the wily Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang. Why did you decide to feature her as your main character?

A: Because in my estimation, she was a pivotal historical character who had long been unjustly disparaged by Han historians, probably due to the fact that she was an ethnic Mongolian and deemed an alien. Her contribution to humanity was by far underrated. It was chiefly her political acumen (her detractors would say “wiles”) that kept the early strife-ridden Qing Court intact, and her compassion and respect for cultural diversity that brought peace back to war-torn China. Brilliant leader as she became, she was no less an enlightening and loving mother and grandmother. Her illuminative influence on Shunzhi and Kangxi could well be gleaned from their humane and liberal reigns. In short, her exemplary story deserves and needs to be told to a wide global audience, particularly because she used her influence as a female leader for the greater good and she was never a self-seeking power-grabber like those other powerful women you named.