Blossom on the Run - a Han dynasty adventure (vol. 1)

by Michael Nylan & Robert J. Litz

Blossom on the run michael nylan robert litz
The day Meike grew up started out like most. She woke to the songs of mockingbirds in the camellia tree. She could hear Ahmei, the cook, in the forecourt bang a pot over the stove. She could smell smoke from Ahmei’s fire and from a hundred others in their crowded district. If she concentrated, she could smell other things too – earth still damp from last night’s rain, peppers soaking in a vat, and something she couldn’t quite name riding the breeze that stirred the bamboo in the courtyard and trickled in through her latticed window.  The first light that peeked over the roof-tiles of the east wing of the family compound made the soft green of the spring bamboo almost glow. A softer light caressed the petals of the plum blossom sprig in the vase on the table beneath her window. Her name, Meike, with its soft “may” and harder “kuh,” meant Plum Blossom – soft petals, hard branch – and every Spring, on Meike’s birthday, her mother placed a cutting in her room. In a few minutes, Ahmei would call her name, then call again when Meike didn’t hop out of bed as ordered. She knew that if she waited, her father would creep in, slowly lift her cover, then grab her belly in a tickling claw. But then, all of a sudden, she had this unsettling feeling that today would be different.

ATTN: This is Volume One of a planned trilogy, which was interrupted by the sudden demise of Robert J. Litz. 

Metron Publications

ISBN-13: 978-1603770927  LCCN: 2015917732

298 pages - US$13.99

The authors

Michael Nylan, Robert J. Litz
Michael Nylan (Professor of History, University of California at Berkeley) is the author of many books and articles on early China and the modern reception of the distant past.  Her two most recent books are Chang'an 26 BCE: an Augustan Age in China (on the Han capital city and its powerholders), and The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian's Legacy (a study of the most famous letter ever written in classical Chinese).  She is currently at work on four projects: a translation of the Documents classic known through its earliest traditions; a comparison of the historical methods and themes deployed in ancient Greek and classical Chinese sources (with Suzanne Said, Columbia University Emerita), a book on pleasure theories in China, up to the eleventh century; and a critical edition of Sunzi's Art of War.   She was orphaned at age eleven, and books got her through then.  For that reason, she has always wanted to write a book that will help get young people at a certain stage through a crisis, and this is her first attempt to do so, with

Robert Joseph Litz (1950-2012,) a playwright whose work focused on social and political themes. He gained  acclaim in 1983 for his play, Great Divide, which was subsequently produced off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1984. Bob Litz wrote seventeen produced plays for Off-, Off-off Broadway, the regional theatres, and for the Elephant Theatre Company where he was Playwright in Residence beginning in 2005. His plays include Mobile Hymn (Dramalogue Award, Best Play) and Cycles (Best of 2012 Hollywood Fringe Festival). He wrote several television shows including the A&E Biographies “George Washington,” “Benjamin Franklin,” “Andrew Jackson” and Emmy-nominated “John Travolta.” He wrote the original screenplay for Twister,  House of Cards, Medium Straight and Rappin’. He won the 2012 Burger Prize for writing on the theatre. He was a member of the Actors Studio (Playwrights/ Directors Unit), the WGAW, and LA Stage Alliance.

Foreword, by Michael Nylan

I have always loved children's stories, perhaps because so many feature orphans, by turns fearless and fearful, forging a wary path through a hostile environment (and I was an orphan), perhaps because all children's stories hold out the promise that, in the end, justice will be done and the world set aright.  Shortly after arriving in Berkeley in 2001, Oxford University Press invited me to write a textbook for middle-school students describing early China as counterpart for Greece and Rome in antiquity.  I jumped at the chance, until the Press forwarded the Texas School Board's list of assertions and themes to incorporate in my writing; it represented every stereotype that I had hoped to undermine.  I balked; the press balked, with the end result that my curiosity only grew: what, after all, could an average American school child learn about China from textbooks and picture books?  Several trips to local public libraries soon taught me that nearly all the books employed the convention of time travel, to circumvent the messy business of handling changes over time.  Hegel was right, apparently: China had no history, in the sense that nothing of sociopolitical or cultural significance had changed from Yao to Mao, and while China had had technical "inventions," it lacked science altogether.  Or so the stories claimed.

I decided to write a children's book of my own, aimed at eleven year-old girls.  I knew when to set the book, as my research focuses on Han-era China (the last two centuries BC and the first two centuries AD).  I already knew some of the characters who could people my book: Dowager Empress Deng and Ban Zhao, two immensely learned women at court, and Wang Chong, an eccentric know-it-all living far to the south.  I even had the rudiments for a good plot, for one famous early Han official had been spared execution, thanks to the eloquence of his young daughter.  And while I couldn't write dialogue, I also had the superb playwright Robert Litz for my best friend.  We had a ball writing the first draft for Blossom on the Run —so much so that halfway through we decided to change gears and opt for a trilogy, merely to prolong the fun.

Bob was due to drive up to Berkeley on Oct. 10, four years ago, so that we could sit at my big dining room table and map out the early dialogue and plot points for volume 2.  He never arrived.  The coroner could find no cause for death.  Bob had simply stopped sometime during the night, after a cast party celebrating the LA Critics' Award for "Cycles," his latest play.  And so, for the moment, this first volume testifies to Bob's abilities as a writer and my passion for Chinese history.  May it inspire others to read Bob's plays (many available from Samuel French or Amazon) or to delve deeper into Chinese history.  Then will justice be done and the world set aright.

Michael Nylan

May 2016

Read Chapter 8 of Blossom on the run