Earnshaw Books will soon be publishing Finding the Way: A Novel of Lao Tzu as part of its Old China Historical Fiction Series, following the publication of The Green Phoenix. The expected publication date is 1st April, 2018. I am very excited to have the opportunity to interview the author, Wayne Ng.
As suggested by the title, this historical novel is about ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. We all know that Lao Tzu was purported to be the seminal founder of Taoism thoughts and that the ideology expressed in Tao Te Ching has had far-reaching influence not only on Chinese culture, values and beliefs, but also on Western philosophical studies. Wayne’s fictionalized account of the life of this revered intellectual promises us a great opportunity to peer inside his mind and soul and to be transported to China’s tumultuous Spring and Autumn period, some twenty-six centuries ago.
Without further ado, onto the Q & A session!
Alice: Hi Wayne! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Why did you choose Lao Tzu for your first novel? What is it about him that resonates with you?
Wayne: I was inspired by the image of Lao Tzu, who after a lifetime of regrets, wandered off to die. I imagined him to be very much like myself---a dreamer, an idealist, one whose social conscience underpinned all that he was. He is a figure of such veneration yet we know so little of him. To my knowledge, he hadn’t ever been dramatized, so I saw an opportunity to literally put some flesh into the legend of someone as relevant today as ever.
Alice: There are two ways to do such a book – write it as a story, or as a reflection of philosophy. How did you do it?
Wayne: Lao Tzu would answer that a natural equilibrium answers all. Here I applied a similar paradigm by juggling the narrative and the development and application of the philosophy. Dyed in the wool Taoists will find many elements of their beliefs woven into the story. Those just learning about Taoism will get the primer without feeling lectured. While the story preceded the principles, the two became intertwined. Lao Tzu created Taoism in order to make sense of the disorder around him. His story and his beliefs evolved naturally, organically. I like to think he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. In the end it became a balancing act of integrating selected timeless Taoist notions into a personal odyssey.
Alice: To what extent is the story anchored to history as it is known?
Wayne: We know that pre-dynastic China was tumultuous, but also a period of significant change and enlightenment. The bronze age was morphing into the iron age. The Zhou House had long since fragmented into smaller, warring kingdoms. Lao Tzu and Confucius challenged the existing order and were often treated like rock stars, but likely also as pariahs by others. That they supposedly met in the Royal Court is one of the few known details of Lao Tzu. However legends also give us the opening chapter where Lao wanders off to die on a water buffalo, only to be stopped by Yin to tell his story. While precise details are often sketchy, characters such as the Princes and the Kings, place names, and the construction palaces and cities are a matter of record. Like any good historical fiction writer, I’ve delicately seasoned facts with creative essence.
Alice: What connections or lessons are there in Lao Tzu and the story as you tell it in “Finding” for people today?
Wayne: Imagine a world spinning too fast. People feeling alienated, disconnected, insecure, unable to find solace in each other or governments, leaders without a moral or altruistic foundation…this isn’t 6th century BC, but here and now. The historical context of FTW was written to synchronize with similar modern questions today. The emptiness and imbalance Lao Tzu spoke of then weighs us down as heavily then as it does now. However he also offered a soothing balm through Taoism that gateways into an inner peace and harmony that’s as relevant and necessary now as it was then.
Alice: You are of Chinese ancestry but born in Canada. How did that background influence you, do you think, in terms of your choice of the story and the nature of the plot?
Wayne: It’s disappointed me that most historical fiction is “Eurocentric”. Fantastic Chinese stories about massively influential people and world influencing periods such as Lao Tzu, are waiting to be discovered. Being of Chinese heritage I understand there is something in the DNA of the Chinese, whether you live in China or as part of the diaspora. There is a sense of duty to family, acceptance of authority and order, a feverish practicality, a survival instinct that has kept the culture intact for thousands of years. I understand this inner rumbling, but also the yearning for a quietude that is best found through inner reflection.
Alice: The book involves a confrontation between Lao Tzu and Confucius. Both had a huge impact / influence on Chinese culture. How would you describe that influence?
Wayne: The genesis of both giants came from the chaos of constant conflicts with the goal of self and societal improvement. Confucianism sought to ingratiate harmony social order and hierarchies through filial piety, and a clearly defined moral code. Lao Tzu would have argued that order and harmony are achieved only through an inner journey without undue, unnatural and extraneous influences. I believe that many Chinese live within Confucianist order but quietly believe in and even yearn for the peace of the Tao/the Way.
Many thanks to Wayne for his insightful answers to my questions.
Earnshaw Books will be releasing the digital versions of “Finding the Way: A Novel of Lao Tzu” on April 1, 2018. The paperback version will be available on July 1, 2018.