With his last breath, China’s First Emperor, Q’in She Huang, entrusts his followers with a sacred task. Scenes intricately carved into a narwhal tusk show the future of a city “at the Bend in the River,” and The Emperor’s chosen three—his favourite concubine, head Confucian, and personal bodyguard —must bring these prophecies to life by passing their traditions on for generations. Centuries later, the descendents of the Emperor’s chosen confidantes observe as Shanghai is invaded by opium traders and missionaries from Europe, America, and the Middle East. Of them all, two families—locked in a rivalry that will last for generations—will be central to the evolution of the city. As history marches on, locals and foreign interlopers clash and intertwine; their combined fates shaping what will become the centrepiece of the new China—Shanghai.
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David Rotenberg has published five mysteries set in modern China as well as the Canadian bestselling historical fiction novel "Shanghai". He is the artistic director of the internationally renowned Professional Actors Lab. He has directed on Broadway, in South Africa, in major regional theatres in North America and for television. He directed the first Canadian play staged in the People's Republic of China--in Mandarin. He lives in Toronto.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Ivory Compact
As the late-afternoon winter sun slid behind the towering dark clouds, a shadow swelled across the beautiful but usually desolate foothills of the Green Mountain, the Hua Shan. In the murky light, thousands upon thousands of rebel troops readied themselves to spring a trap that would end the life of the most powerful man the world had ever known, or very possibly would ever know—Q’in She Huang, China’s First Emperor
A village fisherman raced to the far side of a partially frozen upland lake where his prized eels were supposed to be hibernating in their underwater pen. As he approached, the water was roiling and rich with blood. Females had slithered up onto an ice floe and were giving birth while the thicker, more powerful males thrashed the open water as they gorged themselves on their young. The fisherman watched in shocked silence, then turned his eyes upward, toward the darkening sky. Just down the winding mountain path a hunchbacked farmwife smacked the ice from a blanket she had hung to dry on the bamboo stand the night before and was amazed to find that the coverlet, although frozen stiff, was hot to the touch. Farther back in the foothills, a toothless peasant pinched the nightsoil collector’s product between his thumb and forefinger and brought it to his nose. To his amazement, the product was as fresh as the man had claimed it to be. He dropped the human fecal matter to the ground and stared at the night-soil collector. Then he looked to the black clouds, sniffed the air, turned, and ran.
Peasants always recognize the distinctive ozone reek that precedes change.
But as they retreated to their huts and drew their children close to them, none knew the nature of the change that was beginning, not in the foothills with the rebel troops but on the upper plateau of the Hua Shan, the Holy Mountain. Change conceived and brought into being by the renowned Q’in She Huang himself.
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