Interview

Bringing Crazy Rich Asians to the Big Screen

Joan Vos MacDonald talks to best-selling author Kevin Kwan

When Kevin Kwan wrote the novel Crazy Rich Asians, he had no idea he might change Hollywood. The book, which focuses on the story of Chinese American professor Rachel Chu and her “crazy rich” fiancé, Nick Young, quickly became a bestseller, thanks to a classic romantic plot set in the glittering international stomping and shopping grounds of Singapore’s financial elite. Two more books, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, followed to complete the trilogy. Now the Crazy Rich Asians film is set to hit US theaters on August 15.

Essay

Redeeming Empress Gi

The Korean woman who once ruled China – Joan MacDonald

In the year 1331, the 16-year-old girl who would one day become Empress Gi arrived in the Yuan capital of Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing) among hundreds of young men and women sent as human tributes from Korea. She was offered to the royal court along with flocks of hunting falcons, quantities of ginseng, hanji paper, and baskets of silver and gold ingots.

It’s hard to imagine that she was happy to leave her homeland for an uncertain future, but the well-educated, resilient Lady Gi was determined to survive. She eventually became the first  Korean empress of the Yuan Dynasty and effectively came to rule the 60 million inhabitants of Mongol-controlled China in that dynasty’s waning years.

Yet many of Gi’s accomplishments were ignored because her history was written by those who defeated her. She was labelled a traitor in Korea and demeaned as a corrupting influence by Ming Dynasty historians. When her life was dramatized in the Korean television series Empress Ki, viewers criticized the portrayal as too sympathetic. Historians who came to her defense suggested that her alleged treason might more accurately be viewed as the fulfillment of filial duty. It’s time to rethink the role history assigned her.

Essay

“Like Diamonds or Fine Wine”

The most precious teas in China and Koreaby Joan MacDonald

Why does some tea cost more than fine wine and occasionally exceed the price for its weight in gold? While researching her latest novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, author Lisa See sampled many cups of tea, including some of the world’s rarest and most expensive. To set the scene for characters whose destinies are entwined with China’s wild Pu’er trees, See met tea farmers, tea masters and high end purveyors, who shared their vintage varieties, including a cup made with tea that cost $1,000 an ounce.

“Everywhere we went, we drank tea,” said the author. “Luckily for me, people wanted us to taste the teas that they were most proud of.”