The First Years

The First Years is Book 10 of the novel The Years Of Rice And Salt.


Bao Xinhua joins the popular revolution of China, led by Kung Jianguo, who follows the teachings of Chinese-Japanese philosopher Zhu Isao. As the Chinese people is freed from the oppressive miltary government, the world passes through waves of modernization.

Bao moves to a pacific Fangzhang (near where San Francisco is in our World) where he grows old and teaches and thinks about the sense of history.

World history



  • B : Bao Xinhua, Chinese revolutionary, history teacher
  • K : Kung Jianguo, Chinese revolutionary leader
  • I : Zhu "Tuanjie-kexue" Isao, Chinese-Japanese revolution instigator, history scholar
  • S : Shi Fandi, Chinese revolutionary
  • P : Pan Xichun, Yingzhou diplomat
  • K (second time): Kali, one of Bao's students

Thesaurus & Encyclopaedia

Based on the Trivia and Study Guide compiled by Mark Rosa in 2004. Page numbers from the US paperback edition.

709 Dahongmen : 大紅門 "Big Red Gate". This is the resting place of the Yongle Emperor, who began building Beijing at the beginning of our story.

709 sanwu : 三無. The "wu", meaning "not"/"without", is the same as the "mu" in Zen.

710 the Year 29 : Based on the calendar initiated at the Isfahan Conference, this would be AD 2030.

710 the emperor, aged six or seven : Probably a reference to Pu Yi 溥儀, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty in our world and indeed the end of the long line of emperors in China. Pu Yi was six when forced to abdicate in China's 1911 Revolution.

711 Zhu Tuanjie-kexue : 朱 統結科学, probably, and with the meaning that KSR gives. "Zhu" means "deep red/vermilion". His Japanese name, Isao (勇、勲、功 among others) can mean "brave", "merit", "achievement", etc. Note that this is the same Zhu as in the Yongle Emperor's personal name.

712 Xinhua, Jianguo, Huidi, Zhandou : The characters for "New China" and "Construct the Nation" are 新華 and 建国. Huidi, "Oppose Islam" is 回敵 (this is the same "hui" we've seen before to mean Islam, by the way). Zhandou, "Do Battle" might be 戦斗; the girls' names below might be 香兵、慧軍、公香、愛国蘭. Xinhua, with the same meaning, incidentally, is a Chinese news agency.

712 Repayment, retribution : Presumably Bao's name is 褒 or 報, though 包 is a much more common surname with the same pronunciation, meaning "wrapping". There are several surnames that could be romanized as Kung; some are 鞏、貢、弓 (archery bow), 宮 (palace), 公 (public), 恭. Another is 孔 (Kong in pinyin), which is the name of Confucius.

717 Shi Fandi ("Oppose Imperialism") : The "fan" is 反, meaning "oppose" or against"; the "di" is 帝, meaning "emperor" or "imperial," alternately "imperialism."

725 Pan Xichun : 潘 is a common Chinese surname.

726 League of All Peoples : Evidently, an international organization like the League of Nations (1919-1946) or the United Nations (formed in 1945) in our world.

735 Cao Xueqin : 曹雪芹 (c.1715 - c.1763). Author of a famous 18th century Chinese novel, "Honglou Meng", or "The Dream of the Red Chamber". It concerns the wealthy Jia family and is considered one of the masterpieces of Chinese literature. An online version of the novel is here.

735 Murasaki : Murasaki Shikibu 紫式部 (973 - c. 1025), Japanese author of "The Tale of Genji". This work, which revolves around the amorous hero Genji, the Shining Prince, is perhaps Japan's greatest work of literature; it and her own diary are still well-read today. Her given name is unknown; Murasaki is a nickname taken from one of her novel's characters, and Shikibu is a title ('Department of Ceremonies') her father held. Arthur Waley's translation of Genji can be read here.

735 Purana Kassapa : A sixth-century Indian religious leader, contemporary of Buddha, who taught akriyavada, or "inaction". He believed that nothing could affect the human soul, and that no guilt was felt after sins, nor was any satisfaction to be had from good deeds. This is in complete opposition to the idea of dharma.

738 Padmasambhava : A Tibetan guru who was/is the "essence of Buddha Amitabha". This guru has uncountable manifestations, as he appears to each person in all the worlds.

738 Gyatso Rimpoche, Lives One Through Nineteen : This is the Dalai Lama. "Gyatso" means "ocean" in Tibetan; Tibetans sometimes call the Dalai Lama "gyawa rimpoche", meaning "great protector". In our world there have so far been only fourteen Dalai Lamas; the present incarnation being Tenzin Gyatso (1935- ). Note that Gyatso Rimpoche is also the name of the nineteenth Dalai Lama in KSR's Blue Mars.

738 Plutarch : (Πλουταρχος, c. AD 40-120) A Greek writer from the era of Rome's conquest of Greece. He discussed the lives of 46 people from former ages, pairing a Greek biography with a Roman biography. Despite its length, his "Parallel Lives" enjoyed enormous popularity during the European Renaissance. "Parallel Lives" can be found online here.

738 Liu Xiang : (c. 77-6 BC) A Han bibliographer who edited the Book of Xunzi. His Lie Nu Zhuan tells the stories of various admirable women, and cautions readers against using their beauty to cause chaos.

738 the Wandering Jew : Legend has it that a man who mocked Jesus as he was on the cross was condemned to wander the earth until Christ's second coming. I've never seen an autobiography of this person, however.

742 "Where did all the Roman gold end up?" : Considering that the people of the Byzantine Empire thought of themselves as "Roman", this could be implying that the stash of treasure that Selim III left behind when fleeing Constantinople hasn't yet been found.

742 Sami people : The Saami are a small ethnic minority living mainly in Norway and Russia. Their reindeer-herding in particular is well-known and popular with tourists.

745 "the scene blurred before his eyes..." : Here Bao is seeing an image from his past life as Butterfly, daughter of Peng-ti, after the flood of Fangzhang.

747 Kalidasa's "Sakuntala" : This translation comes from W. S. Mervin and J. S. Masson's Sanskrit Love Poetry, as mentioned on the copyright page.

748 Old Dragonfish : This is the coelacanth, a 400-million year old fish, contemporary of the dinosaurs, that was thought to be extinct before one was found off South Africa in 1938. Another was later discovered off Africa's eastern coast.

749 Putatoi : The Patwin tribe, native to Davis, California (where KSR now lives). The Putah Creek runs through the area.

752 Gao Qingnian : Gao 高 is a Chinese surname meaning "high".

763 Kali : The Hindu goddess of destruction. While the B and I characters have lived long, happy lives of fulfillment -- a nirvana on earth, almost --, it seems that the K character has returned to continue the struggle.


  • (p.724: things don't change that easily)
  • (p.734-737: Zhu's analysis of history (dharma & nihilism, comedy & tragedy))
  • (p.759: "What's hardest to catch is daily life."...)