The kung fu heroine is not a new archetype. Chinese folktales have featured warrior women like Lady Sun in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and The Ballad of Mu Lan. Hong Kong cinema features action stars like Michelle Yeoh who can kick butt and take names side by side with Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And Buffy showed us that martial arts were an effective weapon against all sorts of vampires and demons.
When reading, I’ve always wanted warrior heroines to have a distinct femininity about them; to not be so hard that I can’t relate to them. I think that’s where the kung-fu heroine brings something special to the game. She keeps a sense of softness that is not based on vulnerability and that hard/soft element is part of the warrior training she’s received.
The Taming of Mei Lin is an homage to the Legend of Wing Chun. Wing Chun is a Chinese martial art that emerged in the Qing dynasty. The Manchu rulers had conquered the Ming dynasty and enacted laws to subjugate the Han people. Weapons were not allowed, for fear of rebellion, so Han rebels began to train in secret in hand to hand combat.
The Chinese love legends and mysteries, so it’s very likely much of this has been exaggerated or obscured on purpose to throw off the Manchu rulers, but that’s what makes the story so cool. Here’s what I’ve gathered from different accounts:
A group of five elders from different disciplines gathered at a temple to develop a new fighting system. Their ultimate goal was to raise an army against the Manchu. Unfortunately the temple was raided and the elders were all killed, save one. The nun Ng Mui escaped to a remote village, keeping her identity and the new fighting system hidden. When a pretty young woman, named Wing Chun, started getting harassed by a local warlord, the nun stepped in and trained her.
The warlord demanded that Wing Chun marry him, but when she challenged and defeated him, he backed off. She eventually did marry and taught the system to her husband, who passed on the knowledge to his disciples.
A martial art developed by a woman and taught to a woman. How could I resist?
The Taming of Mei Lin is not the first time Wing Chun has made an appearance in historical romance. Mary Jo Putney featured it in The China Bride. In my story, the name Wing Chun is never mentioned since the Tang Dynasty predates the Qing Dynasty by 900 years. It’s quite reasonable that the same fighting principles existed in the Tang Dynasty as the Five Elders combined many ancient systems to create this new form.
In the short story, martial arts gives Mei Lin the confidence to fight against the powers that be, yet presents her with an impossible dilemma.
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