Updated: 2013-06-25 03:53
By Sun Ye and Mei Jia (China Daily)
The launch of Yi's best-selling book about the Three Kingdoms draws a big crowd in Shanghai. Provided to China Daily
Yi expects to complete the series over five to eight years. He has based himself in a small town to focus on his work and has retreated from public life.
Yi says he started with a chronology of the comparative history of China and the Western world, produced by history professor Chen Qin.
"History is no singular entertainment with the door closed. It's only with a global view that you can see it clearly," Yi says.
His books are littered with references to world history and legends.
"Western audiences will find my writing very acceptable and familiar," he says. "Anyone who flips through the book would want to finish it."
In his leisure time, Yi enjoys reading detective novels. He compares writing about Chinese history, especially trying to shatter long-standing misunderstandings and stereotypes, with solving a complex criminal case.
"I walk into the room of a historical period, I slice it into cubes, then I walk from one cube to another in the room to figure out the clues, like a detective," Yi says.
The book is divided into 1,000-word segments, with every chapter ending on a cliffhanger — a writing style once used in traditional Chinese novels.
Yi begins his tale with the story of the "sexy naked ape" and goes on to compare Venus to Chinese goddess Nyu Wa in the hope of answering the big question: "How has Chinese civilization evolved?" And, "what determines its fate, and what are the twists and turning points?"
While Yi does not yet claim to have the answers, he says: "I'll arrive at it as I write".
Fang Zhaohui, a professor with Tsinghua University, says such books, regardless of their academic value, are a good challenge to mainstream history publications.
"The majority of history books are dry and too purposeful," Fang says. "They often try to force a rigid pattern on readers."
Such history books often describe officials of a failing dynasty as corrupt and emperors as incompetent.
"People are looking for books that are easy and fun to read," Fang says. "They are looking for history told from different perspectives that is more humane."