I’v e been proofing China Construction Kit, plus incorporating reviewers’ suggestions.  It’s about time to print another proof; I think I’m still on target for a release at the end of the month.


Dowager Empress Cíxǐ, the de facto and disappointing late-19C ruler

But I find myself with a few opinions that didn’t get into the book. A few opinions made it in, but opinions take up a lot of room, you know, so I’ll put them here instead.

The biggest point is in reaction to William Rowe’s China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing.  He notes that scholarly tradition, in East and West, has been to divide the Qīng (Manchu) dynasty in 1842, with the first Opium War.  The preceding period goes with the rest of imperial China; the later period is part of modern history.  He describes his book as “revisionist”, incorporating a new overall picture of the Qīng, in which the Opium War is only one incident, and the Qīng were stronger and better than they looked.

He then spends the rest of the book basically showing, despite himself, that the traditional view is more or less correct.

Now, it’s not that he’s wrong, exactly. Early European visitors tended to be impressed with China, until the 19C when they suddenly saw it as backwards yet arrogant (and, more to the point, ready for plucking).  It’s hard sometimes not to just exclaim that 19C Westerners just sucked.  At the same time they were roughing up China, they treated Chinese immigrants, well, about like the West is dealing with Syrian refugees today– that is, with a maximum of ignorant fear and horror.  And when the West got around to the scholarly study of modern China, they were way too interested in the history of Westerners in China.

From a Chinese point of view, an answer to the burning question of why China was slow to modernize was: it came down to really bad luck.  A pattern going back two thousand years is that Chinese dynasties move from active and prosperous, to divided and chaotic. When a dynasty is started, a lot can get done: distribute land, expand the borders, establish internal peace, promote scholarship.  The dynamic period rarely lasts more than 150 years.  Large landowners start to take most of the land, which reduces the tax rolls, which leads to tax increases on the poor, which eventually leads to starvation and revolts.  Often later monarchs are dominated by the eunuchs (or in the Manchu era, their families).  The scholar-officials get bogged down in acrimonious debates, which bring down any serious reform movements. Finally everything falls apart.

The Manchus produced some especially fine early rulers, who lasted till about 1800… which means, the Westerners became powerful just at the worst possible time, after the 150-year mark when the dynasty started to decline fast.  From a purely internal point of view, there was more destruction caused by the White Lotus Rebellion and the Taiping Rebellion than by the wars with the West.

At the same time… well, the Manchu response to the West was pitifully inadequate.  But then, the same can be said of almost every other non-Western nation– it’s not a particular shame for the Chinese.  The Japanese ability to adapt Western ways with great speed is the real outlier.

Development is a tricky problem, and I’d venture to say that almost all the Western advice that China received, for a century, was useless. Not only did 19C Westerners not know how to develop a country, they didn’t even want to.  They wanted to trade, do missionary work, and if possible take over. If they couldn’t take over, they wanted local leaders who would guarantee stability and safeguard Western interests.  To the extent that the West had some good ideas about democracy, free speech, science, civil law, and free enterprise, they did their best to keep it to themselves.

Anyway, see the book for the actual course of events. I do try not to over-emphasize the West, though of course it has to be discussed in the modern period. So I’ve left out (say) what the British ambassador thought of China in 1793, something that tends to fascinate British authors.

And while I’m offering opinions, here’s another one: the Empire was better governed than perhaps any Western monarchy; but monarchy still sucks. This was realized, of course, in both East and West. The Western path was to limit the absolute power of the monarch– basically, in favor of the other power bases of Western society: the nobility, the church, and the towns. The Chinese way was to inculcate in both monarchs and officials an ideology of public-spirited rule.  Mark Elvin quotes some remarkable letters from Manchu monarchs expressing personal shame over reports of droughts and other poor weather. The teaching was that Heaven might show its displeasure with a ruler by bringing such catastrophes; one may wonder if the emperor 100% believed in what he was saying, but he obviously thought it worth saying, and it’s hard to imagine George III or Napoleon or Frederick the Great ever saying it. When the emperor was scrupulous, hardworking, and respectful of his officials, government was more effective than Westerners managed until very late in history.

But of course emperors could also be lazy or incompetent, or paranoid and vicious, or dominated by the court. And in between dynasties, you generally had warlords of varying ferocity. And worldwide, no one ever really achieved a better record with monarchy; see here for more.

(I know, we look at Donald Trump and things don’t seem much better.  But Trump is– thankfully, so far– an opposition candidate, and nothing about democracy guarantees that the opposition is any good.  When you really have a stinker of a president, you can get rid of him in 4 years; a bad monarch can afflict you for decades, and act much more opposite the interest of the masses.)





I’m almost done with the second draft, so it’s time for a page all about my China book. Ordering information will be there when the book is out.  I’m trying to get the book out before Christmas.  (I’m not certain about the cover yet; I have to see what it looks like as a physical object.)

A little pénjǐng

A little pénjǐng

Based on a suggestion from alert reader John Cowan, the title is now China Construction Kit, which fits neatly into my œuvre, and also avoids limiting the book to conlangers.

If you volunteered to read the second draft, I’ll be in touch shortly. I would still like to get readers who know Mandarin or Old Chinese well, so if that’s you, contact me.

I think I have a book written. If you’ve followed this blog carefully, you’ll probably say, “Heh, I bet it’s about League of Legends.” No, my fine friend, it’s about China.

Handy reference map

The book is still tentatively titled China for Conlangers, mostly because “conworlders” is more unweildly. You don’t have to do conworlding at all to read it, of course.  It’s a short but comprehensive intro to both China and Chinese:

  • A history of China from ancient times
  • Sections on medicine, architecture, cooking, technology, architecture, and clothing
  • An overview of Chinese poetry, philosophy, and literature
  • Grammatical sketches of Mandarin and Old Chinese
  • How the writing system works
  • A chapter on how to create fantasy or sf civilizations based on or influenced by China

For conlangers and conworlders, China is an amazing but forbidding resource.  It’s a ticket out of the Standard Medieval Kingdom, and away from standard conlang tropes too.  And for Westerners in general, to say nothing of Western gnolls, I think we ought to know more about what is, historically and perhaps in the future, the dominant civilization on our planet.

It’s required a lot of research, and it would be pleasant to spend another couple of years on that. However, that might not improve the book that much.

I think I’m at the point where I need readers.  If you’re interested, write to me. The language section is not quite as baked as the rest of it, so I won’t send that out unless you really want to see it.  If you know a lot about China already, do tell me; readers who can correct mistakes or suggest additional info are valuable. But so are readers who know very little about the subject, as they are the best judges of whether the book teaches them anything.

Edit: I have a bunch of readers now.  Thanks to all who responded!  I may need more readers for the second draft; watch this blog!

(I also have a book in progress on Quechua, but that won’t be ready till some time next year.)

Just got the numbers from the Accountancy Wing of the Zompist Fortressplex. Since the beginning of time I’ve sold just under 13,000 books in all formats.  Print and Kindle run about even.

Nearly half that— 6351 books— is the Language Construction Kit. That’s pretty respectable sales for a book; Amazon tells me it’s #39,836 on their print books ranking (#39 in linguistics). This year it’s being used as a textbook in two different university courses. (Not the first time; last year I visited a class at Purdue that was using it, which was a lot of fun.)

The news if you’re hoping to sell your sf/fantasy novel is: keep the day job. Babblers, along with its supplementary volumes, has sold 71 copies. That’s actually better than Against Peace and Freedom did in its first four months (42 copies). APAF still hasn’t reached the 200 sales where I said I’d create a conlang for it. (It will probably be Hanying, by the way.) I’m not complaining– doing Babblers this year was a labor of love, and the people who’ve read my novels tend to like them a lot– but the next book will definitely be non-fiction.

What will that be? Well, might as well start building interest: I’ve been working on a book about China and Chinese, tentatively called China for Conlangers. I think most conworlders know enough about European history to create classical and medieval worlds, but don’t know where to start with China, so the book will tell you what you need to know about Chinese history, religion, literature, art, technology, and architecture, as well as the Chinese language and writing system. As with all of my conworlding books, it’s also a sneaky way to impart actual information.  I haven’t thought of a better title, though.

(I’m also tempted to write an English-language grammar of Quechua, since such a thing isn’t readily available. Feel free to lobby for this…)

The hardcover LCK is now available!


It’s published through Lulu rather than Amazon. The price is a little ouchy ($34.95), but it’s solid and looks like it’ll stand up to the sort of intensive, exhaustive reading you should apply to my books. And if someone doesn’t approve of conlanging, it’s heavy enough to hurt when thrown at them.

It’s also a new edition! The typography is redone (same font as ALC); typos are corrected; and I’ve taken the opportunity to rewrite the aspects section, which has bugged me for years. I will update the softcover and Kindle versions sometime early in the new year (it’s too disruptive during Christmas season).

Oh, you want to hear more about aspects? Well, the problem is that terminology has become more precise. The traditional grammatical term “perfect” was used for a lot of things, but mostly for completives (the activity has been completed) or perfectives (the event is seen as a whole, not as a process).

“Perfect” should now be used for events of current relevance. It’s like saying “This happened, and you can draw the obvious conclusion from it.” E.g. “I’ve already eaten (so I don’t want dinner)”, or “John has arrived (so we can start the party)”, or “I’ve been to Greece (so I know all about gyros)”. “John’s arrived” also implies that John is still here, unlike “John arrived”; similarly “I’ve eaten” implies that I’m not hungry, unlike “I ate”. The Russian ‘perfect’ is really a perfective, while the French imparfait is an imperfective.

After a few requests, I’ve decided to put out a hardcover version of the Language Construction Kit. I’m also taking the opportunity to create a new edition (1.2): better typography, correction of typos, referring to the SCA2 instead of the SCA, and an update of the text.  I’m updating the text now, then there will be the usual process of proofing before it’s available.  This will be a different distributor so I don’t know how fast they are, but it should be done in a month or so.


One reason I’m announcing this now, before it’s done: if there are errors you’re aware of in edition 1.1, feel free to e-mail me to make sure they’re corrected, preferably sometime in the next few weeks.

(I will update the paperback and Kindle versions once the hardcover is done, some time in the new year.)

Xephyr from the ZBB suggested a combined LCK + ALC hardcover.  I think that’s a great idea and I’ll probably make that available too, once the LCK alone is done.

Edit: Revising is done, and I’ve ordered the proof copy.

I’ve been revising the Book of Cuzei, and today I ordered a second proof copy. It usually takes less than a week to arrive; if it’s OK I’ll approve it for sale, and if not corrections will probably be minor and it’ll take a few more days.


One complication was that Microsoft Word turns out to be crappy at what should be its major competence: editing book-length printable manuscripts. This happened with The Conlanger’s Lexipedia too: if there’s enough complex formatting, then any additional editing, including adding a new paragraph, will crash the program. The only solution I’ve found is to divide the document in two. This is why the Lexipedia doesn’t have a comprehensive index. The Book of Cuzei does, but only because I hand-edited it. I can’t express how mega-stupid this is; this is what Word is for.

I also uploaded the files for the omnibus edition today. Unfortunately Amazon won’t let me sell it for the price point I wanted– it’s going to be $22.95 in print, though they’ll probably discount it. That’s still less than the $29 it’d cost to buy both books. I am ordering a proof copy of this too, of course, so I can see if the 650-page behemoth is actually usable. (If not I’ll probably have to reformat it for a larger page size, which will probably be delightful.)

The Kindle version will follow shortly. It’s not much use creating it until the print text is finalized. But doing so only takes a day or so.

There won’t be a Kindle omnibus; I was going to just charge $4 or so extra for it, and then realized that I might as well just charge $3.49 for the Kindle Book of Cuzei. That is, selling Book A for $X and Book B for $Y and Book A+B for $X+Y makes no real sense. Just buy both books.

Finally, a shout-out to Edwin Perales who drew the illustration for the cover shown above, and to Mornche Geddick who read the whole Book of Cuzei. There’s not many readers who can find typos in Cuêzi, but she’s one of them, and I wholeheartedly recommend her services in case you have some Cuêzi proofreading to do– undoubtedly a growth industry as there’s nowhere to go but up.

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