Page 26. " their second toes were longer than the others "
Morton's toe
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMorton's toe - Credit: Icetray 636zx6r

This is a common condition called Morton's Toe. It is associated with various disputed ethnic and anthropological interpretations, one of which is that people with longer second toes are sometimes associated with royalty; this stems from the Greek era.

A longer second toe was considered an aesthetic standard in Greek sculpture (the Statue of Liberty "suffers" from this disorder).

Page 28. " a huge basket laden with chunks of anthracite "
Public DomainAnthracite

 Anthracite is a hard, compact variety of mineral coal that has a high luster. It has the fewest impurities of all types of coals, which also include bituminous coal and lignite.

Page 29. " China's first official homosexual, an emperor "

Homosexual emperor
Public DomainHomosexual emperor - Credit: Miuki
China's first homosexual emperor was Emperor Gao (256 BC or 247 BC – 1 June 195 BC), commonly known within China by his temple name Gaozu (Chinese: 高祖; pinyin: Gāozǔ; Wade–Giles: Kao Tsu).  His personal name was Liu Bang. As the first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, he ruled over China from 202 BC to 195 BC. Liu Bang was one of the few dynasty founders in Chinese history that emerged from the peasant class (another prominent example being Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming Dynasty).  

Gaozu was the first Chinese emperor to have an intimate male companion, Jiru, as listed in the official histories. As Sima Qian noted, Gaozu, for all his coarseness and blunt manners, was won over by the charms of Jiru. Jiru did not have any particular talent or ability, and won prominence simply by his looks and graces. He was by Gaozu's side day and night. Gaozu's example of officially elevating a male lover to the top of the administration would be followed by nine more rulers of the Han Dynasty.

Page 29. " Though the copper mines had fallen into disuse and ruin, coal mining continued on a small, manual scale. "
Copper mining spoil heaps
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCopper mining spoil heaps - Credit: Crispin Purdye


Coal Miner in China
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCoal Miner in China - Credit: ZHart

China is the world's largest consumer of coal and has the largest coal industry. It holds about 13% of the world's reserves, but has one of the worst records in terms of human safety, as thousands die annually.

 The process of smelting copper ore was most likely discovered in China around 2800 BC. China is the largest consumer of copper in the world and second largest producer. Copper ore is scarce in China; most of the ore that the Chinese smelt is imported.

Page 30. " a game of Russian Roulette "

Russian Roulette
Creative Commons AttributionRussian Roulette - Credit: CrucifiedChrist
Russian roulette is a potentially lethal game of chance in which participants place a single round in a revolver, spin the cylinder, place the muzzle against their head and pull the trigger. "Russian" refers to the supposed country of origin; "roulette" reflects the element of risk-taking and the spinning of the revolver's cylinder being reminiscent of spinning a roulette wheel.

Page 31. " It was malaria "

Malaria Symptoms
Public DomainMalaria Symptoms - Credit: Mikael Häggström
 Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium.

The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases progressing to coma or death. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including much of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Americas.



Page 32. " They thought the shock should cure him "

The attempts made by Luo's friends to cure him of malaria are based on 中醫 (pronounced Zhong Yi), the practice of Traditional Chinese medicine.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been used for over 2,000 years, and contrary to the philosophy of Western Medicinal practices is primarily concerned with preventing disease rather than curing it. It utilizes concepts such as Yin and Yang, Harmony, Chi-gong, and acupuncture. Diseases are treated as a "disharmony" within the system as a whole, rather than a flaw in a specific organ.



Page 34. " those who have completed elementary education "

The Little Seamstress is referring to Mao's system of classifying people according to their intellect. Mao's hatred of intellectuals led him to banish "city youth" to the countryside to be re-educated. Usually one had to be enrolled in a middle school to qualify as "city youth" and be sent for re-education in the countryside.

The Little Seamstress has only finished elementary school (the equivalent of primary school in the table below).



Educational stages in China
Typical AgeEducationLevelsCompulsory
18-22University or collegeVariesNo
15-18Senior high school (middle school)orVocational schoolGrades 10-12No
12-14Junior middle schoolGrades 7-9Yes
6-11Primary schoolGrades 1-6Yes
Page 35. " a North Korean melodrama with a heroine called "the Flower Girl" "

"The Little Flower Seller" is a North Korean drama about the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement, accredited to Kim Il-Sung. It is considered one of the “Five Great Revolutionary Operas.” The plot is set during the 1930s, when Japan occupied Korea. It tells the story of a lower class girl who picks flowers to sell, so that she can help her deathly ill mother who is in debt to the landlord.

It was later adapted as a novel, and then a film in 1972.

Page 36. " under a white mosquito net "
Mosquito Net
Creative Commons AttributionMosquito Net

Mosquito nets cover a bed or living space, protecting occupants from unwanted bugs such as mosquitoes and flies.

They are frequently used in those tropical countries where malaria and other insect-transmitted diseases are common.

Page 36. " She rolled her long pigtail into a high chignon on the top of her head. "

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeChignon - Credit: CMoi
The chignon is a popular hairstyle in which one pins hair into a knot at the nape of the neck or the back of the head.

Page 37. " What is Luo's father? A Buddhist? "
Public DomainBuddha - Credit: Asia Society

Buddhism is the religion and philosophy that developed around the teachings of Buddha.

During the 1949 establishment of the People's Republic of China, many temples were destroyed and the religion was banned. This ban remained in place until the 1980s. Buddhism then resurfaced as the most popular religion of the region.

Page 37. " It's called Broken-bowl-shards "

It is unclear what this plant is.  Natural Chinese remedies for malaria include:

 Paeonia lactiflora or Chinese Peony. This plant is native to central and eastern Asia and eastern Tibet. 

Wind Flower.
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWind Flower - Credit: Jan Sølve Borlaug

 Pulsatilla (which is referred to by many names including: Wind Flower and Easter Flower). Pulsatilla chinensis is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Page 46. " He was tilling the soil with the aid of a plough and a water buffalo. "
Water buffalo and plough
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWater buffalo and plough - Credit: NeuCeu

Water buffalo are raised in Asia for meat, dairy and as working animals. Their dung is used for fertilizer, and when dried it can also be a fuel.

In 2000, it was estimated that 97% of the world's water buffalo live in Asia. They are popular because of their ability to thrive on poor food and plough through waterlogged paddies. They have been called the living tractor of the East.


Page 50. " Chinese classics from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms to The Dream of the Red Chamber and the Jin Ping Mei "

-The Romance of the Three Kingdoms was written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century. The story takes place toward the end of the Han dynasty and is part non-fiction and part myth. Although the title implies romance, it is the story of the military and political struggles between three small kingdoms. The story is immensely complex for its time and follows the plot from many different viewpoints.

-The Dream of the Red Chamber  was written by Cao Xueqin in the 18th century. It depicts the rise and decline of a wealthy clan in Beijing.

-Jin Ping Mei was written by Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng no earlier than the 17th century. It is a naturistic journal telling the story of a wealthy socialite who has six wives and several mistresses. The plot follows the sexual struggles of the women who are a part of his "clan."



Page 50. " Dong Qichang "

Dong Qichang (1555-1636) was a Chinese painter, scholar, calligrapher, and art theorist of the later period of the Ming Dynasty. As a painter, he favored expression over formal likeness. He also avoided anything that he thought to be sentimental or slick. These factors led him to create landscapes with intentionally distorted spatial features. His views on expression eventually inspired the later "individualist" painters.

He is also noted as a great scholar and a calligrapher. At age 12, he passed the prefectural civil service examination and won a vital position at the prefectural government school. However, he placed second in his first imperial service exam at seventeen because his calligraphy was terrible. After the exam, he practiced his calligraphy relentlessly and eventually attained the highest rank of imperial servant at the age of 35.

During the Cultural Revolution, Dong's tomb was vandalized and his body, dressed in official Ming court robes, was desecrated by the Red Gaurds.

Page 50. " Shi Tao "

Shi Tao was a classical painter and poet in 17th century China who was also a member of the Ming Royal House.  He was more famous for his painting than his poetry; his most famous painting is "10,000 Ugly Inkblots".