Widow Kang

Widow Kang is Book 6 of the novel The Years Of Rice And Salt.


Widow Kang Tongbi feels a deep connection with wandering Buddhist monk Bao Ssu; when her son Shih falls victim to soul theft, Bao is unjustly accused and tortured to death, and Kang is sleepwalking.

Ibrahim ibn Hasam, Muslim schloar, comes to investigate. A deep bond is created between Ibrahim and Kang. Together they go through hypnotism sessions that allow them to remember their past lives together.

Ibrahim and Kang marry and move to the western border of China. They influence each other's writings: Ibrahim writes on history and a treatise that tries to reconcile Islam and Confucianism; Kang teaches him about Buddhism and writes poetry. Civil unrest leads Muslim sects fighting with each other. The Muslim threat coupled with the Han rebellion against the Manchu rulers becomes an endless insurrection and war.

Ibrahim and Kang grow old together, writing and writing. Ibrahim's last work is a history pleading for equality and social change.

World history



  • B : Bao Ssu, Buddhist monk, accused of soul theft, tortured and killed
  • K : Kang Tongbi, widow, then married Ibrahim; poet and thinker on Confucianism and Buddhism
  • I : Ibrahim ibn Hasam al-Lanzhou, Muslim scholar, thinker on Islam and Confucianism
  • S : Shih, Kang's lazy son
  • P : Pao, Kang's head servant
  • Z : Zunli, Kang's servant

Thesaurus & Encyclopaedia

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

397 Kang Tongbi : Kang is probably 康, which means "health", and her name may have been inspired by Chinese feminist author Kang Tong-wei 康同薇, daughter of Kang Youwei. The third character would be pronounced "bi" in Japanese.

397 wei-wang-ren : 未亡人 Indeed "not-yet dead person"; refers to someone whose spouse has died. In Japanese, mibojin.

397 Qianlong emperor : 乾隆; (1711-1799, ruled 1735-1796) was the fifth emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor.

398 Guanyin Bodhisattva : 観音 (菩薩) A bodhisattva of compassion and kindness; called Kannon or Kwannon in Japan. One version of his/her story (this bodhisattva contains both sexes) is as given on pages 399-400. Note that Guanyin appears in the Journey to the West mentioned in the introduction.

401 Bao Ssu, fourth son : "Ssu" 四 is the number four. It is unclear why B, having accomplished so much in his last life, is punished so harshly this time in comparison to K and I, who participated equally in the shenanigans in the bardo.

402 Ge Hong : Chinese philosopher (AD 283-343) who preached the importance of morality and rational thought while searching for ways for humans to attain immortality by nourishing their qi.

408 Zunli : 尊理 in Chinese; characters meaning "respect" and "reason".

412 hui-hui (or hui) : word used for Chinese Muslims. See Book I, note p.33.

419 in challa... um mana pada hum : Kang, unfamiliar with Arabic and Tibetan, is mis-hearing "insh'allah" and "om mane padme hum".

419 "the little goddess died despite all" : Here Kang is remembering her previous life as Kheim, where he and his expedition were unable to save Butterfly's life on their return to China from Inka.

433 square fathom : 方丈 This is the meaning of the Chinese "Fangzhang".

434 Lanzhou : 蘭州 A city of close to 2.5 million in Gansu province, in China. This character "zhou" means "state" and is different from the one in Yingzhou, etc., which has the connotation of "island". The "lan" character means "orchid".

445 Dogen (1200-1253) : A Japanese monk, often called Dogen Zenji (道元禅師, Zen master Dogen). He studied at Hiei-zan on the Kyoto-Shiga border for several years before going to China in 1524, and then establishing his own monastery, Eiheiji, in present-day Fukui. The full quote from his Gabyo is as follows : "If there is no painted rice-cake, there is no remedy to satisfy hunger. Without painted hunger you can never become a true person. There is no understanding other than painted satisfaction. Furthermore, satisfying hunger, satisfying no-hunger, not satisfying hunger, and not satisfying no-hunger can be neither attained nor expressed without painted hunger."

446 Wang Daiyu : A Chinese scholar of Islam. He wrote the Zhengjiao Zhenquan (Righteous Commentary on True Religion) during the 13th century.

446 ren, yi, li : In Chinese these are 仁、義、禮. Confucius' three major precepts.

446 Tiando, rendao : 天道、人道 There's probably a typographical error here, as "tiando" should be "tiandao" in Chinese.

447 the prophet Nanak : (1469-1539) Founder of the Sikh faith. He traveled widely in India, Tibet, and the Middle East.

455 Dong Zhongshu : (c. 179-104 BC) His philosophical work Chunqiu fanlu 春秋豊露 is what is referred to in the novel.

455 Kang Yuwei : 康有薇; Also romanized as Kang Youwei (1858-1927). Does indeed speak of the Three Ages in his Commentary on the Evolution of Rites, and attempts to reconcile Western social history with Confucian descriptions of "the age of universal peace", "the age of approaching peace" and "the age of disorder". Kang Tongwei is his daughter. Note that in the real world, he lived and wrote far too late for Ibrahim, who writes around 1800, to have read him. (This is where KSR gnashes his teeth and mutters, "how did they find that!?")

467 Guanyin, She Who Hears Cries : This is the literal meaning of the characters in "Guanyin" (観音).

470 "Wealth and the Four Great Inequalities" : Ibrahim's entire body of work can be seen as a Sino-Muslim version of the works of historians, political economists and sociologists Georg Hegel and Karl Marx.


  • (p.455-456: Ibrahim's extract on cyclic nature of history and linear progress of Islam)
  • (p.456-457: Kang's extract on religion in cultures)
  • (p.463-464: Ibrahim's extract on history as collision of civilizations)
  • (p.470-475: Ibrahim's "Wealth and the Four Great Inequalities" on the history of the world, pamphlet for social change)