Although The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball will not be published until August 15, I'm beginning to get some questions.
Recently, a friend asked "Isn't it a nonfiction book about baseball?" The answer is no! This is a historical novel, aimed at readers aged 10 to 14, about two Chinese boys who were sent to study in America in the 1870s. They were warned not to become "too American," but one quickly learned to love playing baseball.
Here are other questions I've heard - from people who have read the book - with the answers.
Why did China send 120 boys to America in the 1870s?
In the 1800s, China’s leaders thought China was the most important and powerful country in the world, so they were shocked when they lost several wars to European armies. China had not paid attention to Europe, so they didn’t realize that Europeans and Americans had developed modern naval ships, cannons, and rifles. In 1860, China lost the Second Opium War to Britain and was forced to give up territory in Hong Kong. That major humiliation made the emperor listen to a man named Yung Wing who recommended China send boys to America to learn English, study modern technology, and return home to modernize and protect China.
Why did those Chinese boys have to wear their hair in a braid?
During the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911), all Chinese men and boys had to wear their hair in a single braid and to shave their foreheads. Today, this hairstyle looks strange, but it was the traditional style of the Manchus, an ethnic minority that ruled all of China in those years. A lot of Chinese resented these “foreign” emperors, but the Manchus enforced the rule. If a Chinese man cut off his braid, he was considered disloyal and accused of treason. The punishment was death. The Chinese boys sent by the emperor to study in America were expected to return to China, so they were required to show their loyalty, too.
Why were they so young?
Yung Wing, who came up with the idea of sending more than 100 boys to study in America, began learning English at a young age at a school in Macau. He went to America for high school and went to college at Yale. He learned from experience that the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a foreign language. If you start studying a foreign language at the age of eleven, you can learn to be totally fluent, speaking it without an accent. However, Yung Wing almost forgot how to speak and read Chinese during his years in America, so he required that the boys continue to study Chinese while they lived in the United States.
Did they really play baseball?
Yes! Here is a picture of some of the real Chinese scholars in 1878, posing with baseball bats. These boys formed a team called “The Orientals” in Hartford. Baseball was relatively new in those days, and it was becoming wildly popular in towns and colleges, starting in the New York/New England area. In those days, “Oriental” was a commonly accepted term for “Asian.”