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Interview with Maxine Hong Kingston


Since the late 1970s, most students who have taken a college-level English course would have read and analyzed Maxine Hong Kingston's book "Woman Warrior." It is among the most disseminated texts in the US university system.

But the book's popularity wasn't the reason why we at Sonshi wanted to interview Maxine Hong Kingston. Her focus on the subject of peace since the 1960s was why we sought her -- and why we were humbled and grateful when she accepted our request for an interview. Her two most recent books "The Fifth Book of Peace" and "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace" demonstrate her continued commitment towards that end.

Some of you might wonder why Ms. Kingston's works have any relevance to Sun Tzu's Art of War, a book on war. The answer lies in the fact that for the last few years our new Chief Founder shifted's focus towards two areas: 1) underrepresented readers, namely, women and 2) the much needed correction and rebalancing of The Art of War's true purpose.

First, as more women continue to take on leadership roles in business and government, the more they will need skills in strategy and leadership offered by Sun Tzu's Art of War. We believe the days when only men read The Art of War are over. We're proud to have promoted and highlighted women authors of the book and will increasingly do so in the future. We're proud a reader named his newborn baby girl Sonshi so she would be "brought up with [Sun Tzu's] principles." Thus if you're a woman author or reader, you're always welcome at

Second, ever since The Art of War was first interpreted by scholars and practitioners over 2000 years ago, all too often they overemphasized the battle strategies contained in the text. Little was discussed on the call to end the battle quickly and the moral intention behind the endeavor. It wasn't until 1988 when Dr. Thomas Cleary published his masterpiece that finally shifted The Art of War back to its original intent and theme, pointing to the humanistic undercurrent which in actuality drives the entire book.

In other words, the strategies that helped you win the war are fine and good but it's the peaceful resolution of the conflict that is the ultimate goal, as well as the importance of the Way and benevolence that enabled you to effectively apply those strategies.

So, yes, wars and conflicts often dominate our world but we should never forget the reason why we -- on the side of good -- fight wars in the first place. Unfortunately, more times than not, especially in our recent past, we forget and fight for less noble goals and objectives. Maxine Hong Kingston reminds us of the enormous costs of wars and brings us back to why we should strive for peace instead. Sun Tzu would have agreed wholeheartedly.

Below is's interview with Maxine Hong Kingston. The Woman Warrior remains a required text in all major universities' writing classes. If aspiring writers were to ask you for some words of advice, what advice would you give them?

Kingston: Write something everyday. Sit for a few minutes, and write the word of the day. Your mother, Ying Lan, filled you with talk stories when you were growing up and had a tremendous influence in your life. She was a doctor in China trained in Western medicine yet was not given an opportunity to practice in America. Do you believe the 21st century will be the first century where women will have the most say in their futures? What are the signs to suggest this is true, or what needs to be changed?

Kingston: We seem to be always on cusps. Women come out of the burkah, the niqab, purdah, the closet, then go back in again. Of course, what we need do is to value the happy freedom of all beings. Your father, Tom Hong, was a scholar trained in the traditional Chinese classics in China before he moved to America. Did you first learn about Sun Tzu's Art of War from him, or if not, how did you first learn about The Art of War? What are you thoughts about the book?

Kingston: I remembering two instances of hearing about Sun Tzu and The Art of War. I don't know which came first. Once was in Romance of 3 Kingdoms. The other was a translation into a manual for businessmen.

It seems to me that The Art of War codifies the principles of kung fu, the martial arts: to co-operate with the enemy, to prevent all-out war when possible. I remember reading a lot of pages devoted to fighting with fire, and burning down cities. Devotion to tactics rather than ethics. I have a figurine of Gwan Goong, god of war and literature, reading a book. That book is The Art of War. What other Chinese classics have you read? Did any resonate with you?

Kingston: I've read Romance of 3 Kingdoms, Flowers in the Mirror, Water Margin (and All Men Are Brothers, Pearl Buck's version), Journey to the West, Red Chamber Dream, the I Ching, the Dao-te-Ching the poetry of Li Po and Tu Fu, the Li Sao elegy. They are all miraculous. You recently published works such as "The Fifth Book of Peace" and "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace." We believe more than ever, the message of peace in your books is sorely needed in the world, and has been for a long time. This question will be open-ended. What are your overall thoughts on war, e.g., why do we still have wars, why we must end them, and the future of warfare.

Kingston: Your question requires book-length answers. The way I'm going now is to focus on peace, to create peace. As Sister Corita said, "I don't go to anti-war rallies. I go to peace rallies." In "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace," the writings of survivors of five wars filled its pages. What life lessons did you learn from your experiences working with them?

Kingston: This book has stories from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Israel, Iraq I, Iraq II. Also two massacres - Tiananmen Square and Move. I am confirmed in my belief that war is utter destructive violent chaos. There is no "art," no "order(s)," no "just war." No matter what the ideologies, wars are the same. We will go full circle with the last question. How would you define a Woman Warrior? In other words, what would she be like, her attributes, her outlook?

Kingston: I am working on a Buddhist definition. With his/her sword, Manjusri cuts through ignorance and wrong views and delusion.

[End of interview]

Below are two books discussed in the interview:

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