Stan Lai has a clear memory of what inspired his magnum opus.
In 1990, he saw a painting in Rome by Jan Brueghel the Elder, about a huge room full of paintings. “What if a person in a story has a dream, which spawns another story, just like paintings in a painting?” he thought.
Nine years later, while touring a French castle, he noted a portrait of its owner, a French diplomat who was stationed in Italy. “What if he was assigned to China and married a Chinese lady,” Lai asked himself.