How the real Taiwan inspired the fantasy in Dragon in Chains

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Fantasy author Daniel Fox says that his new novel, Dragon in Chains, was inspired by a trip he took to Taiwan in the year 2000, at the invitation of the Taipei city government.

"They'd asked writers from all over—Canada, South America, Singapore—and didn't actually ask much of us, except a couple of public events and lots of photo opportunities," Fox said in an interview. "In return, they gave us limousines and luxury: rooms at the Ritz, banquets, trips all over. ... They wanted us to go away and write nice things about Taiwan."

Fox loved his time in Taiwan and wanted to write about it, but he was very aware that the government was giving the writers a privileged and one-sided view. "So I went back a few months later, slept on my interpreter's floor and wandered around on my own," Fox said, "and came away with a very different perspective, much less comfortable and much more real—and a major project in the back of my mind."

In the novel, a boy emperor flees the length of the empire with his mother, his generals and his defeated army in full retreat from a rebellious warlord. "He is driven at last to the island refuge of Taishu—which is the source of imperial jade, which is the symbolic and actual source of imperial power," Fox said. "No man can hold the empire who does not hold Taishu; the pursuing warlord will have to invade."

Fox said he wanted to write about the relationship between Taiwan, which is governed by the Republic of China, and mainland China, which is also called the People's Republic of China and which considers Taiwan its own.

"[Also, about] how a defeated leader retreated to one small island with his entire army and spat defiance for 50 years; how to the Taiwanese this was an invasion of strangers, which led to military occupation and dictatorship; how perverse it was, how violent, how dependent on the interference of other powers," Fox said.

Because Fox is a historian and a romantic, he wanted to recast it in terms of imperial China. "[I wanted] access to all that wealth of culture and feudal absolutism," he said. "And because I'm a fantasist, I wanted gods and dragons, a China where all the myths are true. Including the ones I make up."