My goal with Project Shenmue is fairly straightforward: create a tribute to the Shenmue game series’ story, but with an emotionally satisfying conclusion and less racism. Seems simple enough, but I’m approaching the subject of China as a complete outsider. I know some basic history and have seen some films, but there’s still a lot I don’t know, and I want to at least put some level of research into whatever representation I give my story. Not because I’m hoping to earn some SJW brownie points, I don’t think Project Shenmue will even reach the eyes of the arbiters of woke, but really just for my own, personal satisfaction and artistic pride. I don’t have any great goals beyond telling a pulpy adventure story with less racism than the pulpy adventure stories that inspired it. But I hope at least that I can make something better than Bullet Train or Shogun (stories I… have very strong opinions about). To that end, I have set about getting my hands on whatever decent research texts I can find on the subjects I want to incorporate into Project Shenmue, which leads us to the topic of today’s article.

From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao: The Essential Guide to Chinese Deities

Essentially a Chinese version of The Isles of the Many Gods, this is exactly what the title description says. A fairly slim volume, Xueting Christine Ni doesn’t spend too much time on the deities she showcases here. But the book isn’t really intended to be more than a primer for readers like me, who are completely ignorant on the subject of Chinese deities. And for those who are intrigued and want to learn more, Xueting makes sure to tell you just where you can find more detail on whatever divine figure catches your eye.

With me, my main interests for Project Shenmue lay with Hei Bai Wu Cheng, Huang Di, and Chairman Mao, but I still found myself drawn to other deities I’d never even heard of before, such as Zi Gu and Bai Mei Shen. Whatever subject or spot on the larger pantheon you’re interested in, this book probably has info on it, and is presented with a far more personable and passionate voice than what you’d find in a strictly academic article.

More than that though, Xueting understands that religion is not static, but rather a constantly evolving thing that incorporates centuries of oral retellings, government policy, nationalistic propaganda, author idiosyncrasies, and pop culture. Despite what some people might tell you, rational materialism is far from a dominant force in society. Even if we’ve rejected old gods, new gods and new focuses of worship have arisen to take their place, and with this book, you not only get basic info on deities, but a history of how they’ve changed and shifted as the tellers of their stories have evolved.

Just as you’d expect from any good primer, even though I learned a lot from this book, I still have so many questions. And Xueting has pointed me in the exact direction to find more answers. As such, I’m so glad Alice Poon recommended this book to me, since it’s exactly what I wanted and what I needed. I still need to find a good book on yeren though. (What good pulp pastiche doesn’t have a Frazetta Man?)