This is a work of historical fiction that has gestated over the years that I have made trips to China and Hong Kong where I have met many people and formed a few friendships that have inspired me to write this story. But its genesis owes to four non-fictional Chinese females. Two are little girls; one I will never know, and one who I have come to know since I began making notes. The first girl, only a baby, I saw only for a few brief moments as her body was whisked by my Yangtze cruise ship in the rapid sepia current one day many years ago. Then she was gone, forever.
The second girl I saw for the first time a few years later in a hotel in Guangzhou, in the arms of my niece, Betsy, her adoptive mother, a couple of days after she had been received from an orphanage in Fushan. Waifish Xiao Fu, as I like to call her (she was Fu Lin-si, probably given the surname based on the city in which she was found) was a baby who escaped being "washed" (as the drowning euphemism has it), exposed, or smothered in ashes, as many of her Chinese sisters, unwanted victims of poverty, superstition, or national demographic policy, have been victimized. She was getting a ma, in the person of my lovely and loving niece, who was getting a long-awaited nü'ér, and a new life in a new land, with a new name of Caralena. This child of hope was not much older than her sister unmercifully sent by despair into a Yangtze grave. I felt for some time the desire to find a way to connect Little Fu to a narrative fate that she escaped, and to a history and culture that, in this manner at least, she might find context.
I do not know the names of the other two Chinese women who form part of the inspiration for this story. I stumbled upon them as I was exploring villages along the slopes on the north side of the Yangtze when a red line was being painted to indicate the highwater level that would be created by the Three Gorges Dam. They were preparing vegetables on the porch of a very modest house: an elderly woman with salt and pepper hair sitting on a low stool washing some greens, and a pretty girl of late teens or early twenties in a blue dress, on a chair and preparing some string peas. I stopped to watch what I took to be a grandmother/granddaughter tableau, and then pointed to my camera and asked if I could photograph them. They nodded affirmatively and they have graced the wall of my home since and sourced my imagination for one of the later chapters in this book.
I am indebted to these women and girls and especially to my courageous niece for inspiring this story. My daughters of the river dragon, who are completely fictional creations, draw upon their beauty, courage, spirit, resilience, and even of tragedy.
The other element of this story is China in perhaps its most turbulent century. The story begins in 1922,near the ending of the republic that lasted only a few years after the fall of the Qin dynasty Just a decade before.There had been talk add governmental levels during this time about the need for a damn on the Yangtze River. The main concern at that time may well have been the ravages of flooding that wiped out towns and villages and cost many lives, But also delivered fertility to the soil through siltation. The river dragon of the Yangtze was a fickle ruler of its waters.The damn was finally built In the early 21st-century, a hydroelectric and flood control construction that is the largest of its kind in the world and which also created an enormous body of water behind it that necessitated the relocation of millions of people and the loss of many ancient villages and other important archaeological sites.
So the Yangtze itself and its Three Gorges Dam are also a central character In this story as told through the interactions of its Dragon and his daughters.