A coerced member of the House-Elf Liberation Front and the Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare.


Painted Eyebrow Trends in Tang Dynasty

This is a chart showing different eyebrow trends in the Tang Dynasty. It’s based on a chart in Chinese Clothing by Hua Mei and Gao Chunming (2004), on pg 37. I wanted to create a chart that had the eyebrows on faces.

Interesting notes

"Women of the Tang Dynasty paid particular attention to facial appearance, and the application of powder or even rouge was common practice. Some women’s foreheads were painted dark yellow and the dai (a kind of dark blue pigment) was used to paint their eyebrows into different shapes that were called dai mei(painted eyebrows) in general. There were literally a dozen ways to pait the eyebrows and between the brows there was a colourful decoration called hua dian, which was made of specks of gold, silver and emerald feather.” (5000 Years of Chinese Costume, 77)

"…during the years of Yuanho in the reign of Xuanzong the system of costumes changed, and women no longer applied red powder to their faces; instead, they used only black ointment for their lips and made their eyebrows like like the Chinese character ‘’." (5000 Years of Chinese Costume, 77)

The black lipstick style “was called the ‘weeping makeup’ or ‘tears makeup’.” (Chinese Clothing by Hua Mei, 37)

(via blueberry-cobbler)

Functions of Social Controls and Political Organization

Note: Stories, facts, and information provided here are not meant as encouragements for writers to simply insert into their works. Additional research may be needed. They should only be used as inspiration and to help with understanding how cultures are put together. Please use this knowledge to inform your own culture creations without full appropriation. Find the rest of the series here.

Every society has some kind of system of political organization. Anthropologists don’t restrict the study of these systems solely to states. The study of politics is placed in the framework of evolution as well as utilizing cross-cultural studies for comparisons. These global and comparative approaches include non-state as well as state civilizations.

Political systems allow for regulating decision-making, resource control and allocation, as well as maintaining social control and resolving conflict.

Many anthropologists have noted a correlation between sociopolitical types and adaptive strategies:

bands <—> foragers

  • Leadership in foraging bands are frequently a person who leads solely on personal merits. They can be called “headmen” or “big men.”
  • Not true leaders, but “first among equals”
  • Possess some culturally valued skill such as being a good hunter, an eloquent speaker, or a spirit medium.
  • Lead by example.
  • People feel obligated to obey.
  • Prestige via such outward shows of gift-giving and generosity to individuals or the community such as potlatches(I’ll talk about the specifics of potlatches in a future post.)
  • Comparative instability to other more complex political organization systems since they have no true claim to leadership other than their personal merits.
  • Lack of private property means theft is not common.
  • Conflicts often based on adultery or accusations of some other type of anti-social behavior.
  • Social control is maintained by informal sanctions based largely on public opinion.
  • The position of big man is not an “office” to be held, and there is no succession.
tribes <—> horticulture & pastoralism
  • As an intermediary step between foragers and chiefdoms, tribes have a much more flexible ability for political organization.
  • They frequently have a mix of the big man system and the chief, with a leader who is naturally good at something valued by the society, but the rank may or may not be passed down a lineage.
chiefdoms <—> horticulture & small-scale intensive agriculture
  • The position of a chief is an inherent societal rank.
  • Commonly accompanies a pyramidal, hierarchical structure.
  • Chiefs hold office and title, and are installed in societal positions.
  • The power they hold is not of their own self, but of the group.
  • Leverage over group inherently due.
states <—> intensive agriculture
  • Any sociopolitical organizations seen in today’s first-world states are possible options.
  • Presidents, matriarchy, patriarchy, dictatorship, held by either social opinion, lineage right, force, or any other number of manners.

Social controls are mechanisms that encourage adherence to social norms most of the time. They are another human cultural universal, but they do not require the presence of courts and codified laws and many believe. Mechanisms for social control can be formal or informal:

  • Informal: socialization, public opinion, corporate lineages, supernatural beliefs/ancestor worship, age organizations, witchcraft beliefs/accusations, etc.
  • Formal: song duels, intermediaries, elder councils, oaths and ordeals, courts and codified laws, etc.
  • (want to hear more about one of these topics? send me an ask requesting an article!)

How does this help a writer?
These are just basics and generalities to get you started with figuring out what kind of political leadership your civilization may naturally gravitate toward. What they actually use isn’t actually as important as the means of social control. What is it that keeps people from doing certain things? The most popularly-used methods of social control are laws and codes. I don’t believe those are the most interesting, though! Some tribal societies have complex sets of taboos that keep people from killing each other or poisoning animals or whatever actions are considered “inhumane” or “unacceptable.” Think hard about whether your civilization would benefit from some other methods of social control that the, frankly, overused codes and laws.

Anonymous asked: When writing an Assassin, is there anything you would recommend us not doing? Like should we avoid having a stereotypical assassin who hates the world but when another character comes into their lives, their view on the world changes? Trope wise, is there any that you would like to see more of? Thank you :)


Ah, assassins.

The Ninja: I don’t mean actual historical ninjas. This is the cultural perception of guys in black masks who leap between buildings like Spider-Man. The Assassin’s Creed assassins a.k.a the guys who can’t kill their way out of a paper bag. The supposedly human character whose training gives them a hefty dose of superpowers with a side of Orientalism and fetishizing of “insert Eastern culture here”. Believe it or not guys, people do look up.

The Forced Prodigy: “My character is a super awesome killer, but they were forced to learn these skills”. No. In order to be good at something, you have to enjoy it and you have to want to be good at it. You have to want to learn. An assassin is a hired killer, they kill people for either money or a cause. They stalk them, they invade their lives, they learn everything they can about their target, and then they hunt them down. It’s not the sort of profession you thrive in if you’re squeamish. More, the sorts of organizations we’re talking about aren’t going to take someone who doesn’t want to learn or train someone who actively resents them. Talent isn’t everything, in the long run it actually means very little. Someone who wants want you’re offering, who sees this new addition in their life as an improvement, is much more valuable. The individual who chooses the life, even if it was originally chosen for them, will always beat out the unwilling no matter how much natural talent they possess. There are plenty of other candidates where your character came from. If you want them to succeed, they’re going to have to prove themselves.

Undone By Love: You mentioned this one. The Best Assassin in the World is undone by… a pretty face? What? Seduction is a standard part of the assassin package for men and women. It’s a lot easier to kill someone by attacking their blind spot and history proves sexual attraction is a great one. Assassins are going to be deeply screwed up individuals, their understanding of normal is nowhere near the standard cultural baseline. It’s easiest to start understanding it by assuming everything you understand is inverted: kindness is a lie, interest means you want something, trust is a sign of an inevitable back stab. When you live in a world of shadows and lies, paranoia is inevitable. “Normal” people are either background noise or enemies in disguise. Staying one step ahead is how you stay alive and if you can do this to other people then it can also be done to you. So, someone who shows them kindness? Why would they ever trust that?

The Oliver Twist: This is like Undone by Love. The idea is that once the assassin gets a taste of real life outside the walls of their compound, once they experience kindness, once they experience normalcy, they’re going to want that and realize their life has been a lie. “I just want to be normal’. Well, this comes from a mistaken assumption on the part of the author about the character because they’re assuming:

1) that they’re baseline for normal is normal.

2) that once exposed, everyone is going to want to have what they have and be like them.

An assassin is trained with the understanding that they will eventually go out into the “real world”. Part of their job is infiltration and that means learning how to fit in, perhaps in a multitude of different cultures. Psychology, human behavior, seduction, and general social skills are going to be part of the package. You can’t manipulate individuals without understanding them, understanding their concept of normal is going to be necessary. Normal is relative. It’s important to consider that a character who kills people for a living may not want to be like the people they kill or like their creator (you).

Biting the Hand That Feeds Them: The assassin goes out into the world, realizes what they are, has an epiphany, and says “I must stand against the evil!”. This is an assumption about morals. Killing is wrong, ergo the assassin must be wrong, when they realize they are wrong they will want to make it right by… killing more people? Welcome to Saturday Morning Cartoon morality, where things are black and white and everyone is immortal until someone slits their throat. Death is the natural conclusion to life. People die. In fact, they die all the time. If your character is a professional assassin, they’ve made peace with murder and the muddy waters they wade through. They kill. Death is part of them. Why is one person more or less worthy of life than another? In their mind, some of the people they kill may indeed have it coming. What makes their organization and what they do so much worse than the good guys?

Writing any character who fights involves wrestling your personal philosophy and your morals. Why we fight, why we kill, why we commit atrocities have been a central focus of human philosophy throughout history. There aren’t any easy answers to those questions, nor are there universal ones. Like spies, assassins are among the hardest to understand because of the manner in which they kill. They have to be able to empathize with their target, they don’t have the same luxury of dehumanization that a soldier does. They get to know people with the intent to kill and if you’re not able to get comfortable with that then writing it can be very hard.

The Assassin With A Heart of Gold: The assumption that turning around on their masters makes them a good person, or that doing the right thing somehow absolves them. Black Widow’s “red ledger” line from Avengers. Essentially, the Atoner. I’m sick of the Atoning Assassin. “I’m doing the right thing because I want to make up for my past mistakes” by killing more people. I mean, sure, it’s funny but really. They’re essentially doing the exact same thing they did before but this time it’s okay because of authorial fiat. They’re working for the good guys now. That makes them a good person.

No. They may have changed sides, but if they’re still killing then they’re still the same person. At it’s heart, killing is killing. There is no good killing and no bad killing, there’s just killing. Every person is someone’s mother or father, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, every person your character kills matters to someone. It’s not people in general, or those people over there, the person being killed is an individual. Your assassin knows they’re killing an individual, they know that because it’s part of their training.

So, why does this individual matter? What is it about this one that made them change their mind? They go through all their training, fully understanding what they’re being asked to do because it won’t work if they don’t, kill all those other people and then they get to this one person who makes them realize their entire life is wrong? Why? It’s not because they’ve suddenly realized killing is wrong.

Figure it out or become an internally inconsistent cliche.

So, what would we personally like to see more of?

Well, don’t do the above and you’re well on your way to what we’d like to see. The Professional Assassin, The Cheerful Assassin, and The Gleeful Assassin, so long as they aren’t presented as villains. Personality types that go in for something other than “sour, dour, moody, broody” and “angsty, whiny, poor me, victim”. Characters who don’t sit around talking about how awesome and dangerous they are or make grandiose claims about their skill set while never backing it up.

What about you, followers? What assassin archetypes do you hate? What would you like to see more of in fiction?