Finishing River Town

I made the mistake this morning of reading the closing three pages of Peter Hessler’s River Town on a public bus, No. 115, to be precise. I was on my way to work, having in recent weeks finally gathered the courage to take on Beijing’s bus system.

The bus had just passed the Pacific Century mall as I started the final section of the chapter titled “Upstream.” I felt the emotion mounting as Hessler described his farewell to Fuling after having lived and taught there for two years. Like a video camera, Hessler pans across the faces of those who’ve gathered to see him off, his students and colleagues, and each name brings back the memories of their stories, some of them unbearably poignant.

I was doing okay until I got to his description of his students standing in the rain and crying as he boards the boat leaving them, probably forever.

It’s odd enough to see a white man on the 115 bus. But seeing one standing there and being so obviously moved with feeling is probably somewhat less common. Like the students Hessler was describing, I tried to hold back the emotions and keep an even expression. I succeeded, but it wasn’t easy. And I had to put the book down and finish the last two paragraphs after the trip.

As I read the simple sentence that touched the nerve – “Most of them were crying as they stared out at the river” – I looked away from the book, determined to think about something else so I wouldn’t look ridiculous. It was then I saw that, impossibly, the bus had turned onto Tuanjiehu Lu, the street I lived on when I first came to China in 2002. It’s the one spot in all of China that still evokes painful memories and wistful whispers of, “If only….” I remembered saying my own goodbyes to China and those I loved here on that very spot. The coincidence was too much.

I put the book down and looked stern and serious. Maybe nobody on the bus noticed how moved I was (I am good at some things, but hiding emotion has never been one of them).

I had got to the final chapters of River Town weeks ago. I had been holding off finishing it because I didn’t want it to end. I kept it by my bed and read only one or two pages a night as I neared the final chapter. Some things you just want to savor.

Maybe when I get back into blogging mode, which doesn’t seem to be anytime soon, I’ll do a full write-up. In the meantime, if you haven’t read it, now’s the time. I don’t believe you can possibly live in China and read this book without feeling a fundamental shift, a deeper appreciation of everything you see, a greater sadness at some of the nonsense and a more powerful love and appreciation of the people and all they’ve gone through and the miracle that they are where they are today. Hypnotic, merciless, unforgettable, and sublime.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 46 Comments

Gee!I am half way through this book and you spoil the endings,haha

April 28, 2009 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

Well you just sold another copy. I keep hearing about this book over and over. I keep putting off reading it, but if it moved you this much, sounds like a must read.

April 28, 2009 @ 9:12 pm | Comment

Well, you know he’s not going to stay in Fuling forever and he’s going to say goodbye at some point. I promise, knowing he says goodbye in the rain by the river does not spoil the book. It just keeps getting better and better. And then it stays with you. Just what a great book should do.

April 28, 2009 @ 9:54 pm | Comment

On the other hand, he did go back, just as most of us go back. And things go on in their own way without us. I remember leaving the town I lived in in Taiwan after spending my first year overseas there, and bawling my eyes out on saying goodbye, but of course I have gone back more than once, and most of it is pretty much where I left it.

Here’s an interesting topic – why is it that so many people, even the ones that come out with a strict intention of only staying a year, or who leave swearing they’ll never come back, do exactly that, usually within 6 months-1 year of leaving? The optimistic side of me says that it is because China and Taiwan have a certain magic that one cannot find elsewhere, but the pessimistic side of me says that it is because employers have little use for expats!

Of course, I’m almost certainly going back to the far east this summer, so I’ll leave you to guess which side most describes my motivation . . .

April 29, 2009 @ 3:46 am | Comment

I’m a bit obsessed with the Yangtze, and had spent a weird 3-day cruise on it earlier this month, so your post reminds me that I should pick up a copy, and soon.

And: Lovely writing. Your time in China must be so amazing.

April 29, 2009 @ 6:09 am | Comment

I remember River Town, a relative easy read in English but many interesting and poignant stories. Rural county towns are usually the worst place in China but the author managed to befriend and mingle with virtually all kinds of people in the town, very impressive.

A few stories in the book I can still recall:
the showdown between the shoeshine guy, the lowest class in town, and the author, a Princeton and Oxford graduate from the USA

The single 30 something women (Ms. Ou?) relentlessly pursuing the author, the audacity and desperation, and that tiny black and white photo of her in youth that is so typical of older women trying hold on to the their youth.

Many deaths, some suicides, rural girls are so prune to suicide, especially thoses who read literature.

April 29, 2009 @ 7:43 am | Comment

A western version of Scar Literature. Tell me, why is it that all popular books on China written by Westerners are about the suffering of the Chinese people, and how the Western character is so “moved” by this. Typical superiority mentality of the West. And all books on China written by Chinese authors that are popular in the West follow the same mode.

In fact, in Chinese literature/film circle, it is well known that if you want to win a Western award for your work, just write/film about AIDS/Poverty/Religious Freedom in China and you’ll guaranteed to win a prize and may even be invited to give a talk to a Western audience. Great way to make a quick buck.

April 29, 2009 @ 7:58 am | Comment

Foarp, yes he went back, but at the time none knew he would go back. Either way, it is an overwhelming ending. It somehow brings back all the pathos of the preceding few hundred pages, all in the closing five paragraphs.

I’ll bet anything, including my life, that Red Star has never read the book. It is not about suffering, though there’s that element – he was teaching in a dirt-poor place and saw some suffering, for sure. But that is a sliver of the book, which is much more about hope and caring. I’m sure the main elements will go right over your head, and all you’d see would be the negative stuff (or what you perceive to be negative). So maybe you’re the one person on the planet I’d recommend not read it. What a distinction.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:23 am | Comment

And Tom, thanks for the comment – it got stuck in the spam filter overnight, sorry. Not sure why, but will try to fix the problem.

Foarp, about your point regarding “coming back.” I went through the same thing. I swore in 2003 I would never come back to China, let alone come back to live for another three years. I still can’t figure out exactly what happened.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:30 am | Comment

What’s wrong with Scar Literature? Deng used it to consolidate populist support in his power struggle with leftists, and then condemned it once it has served its purpose. What China needs now is not less scar-lit but more, one that truly exposes the complicit role played by all players in the tragedies of the last generation, from government down to each individual in society. China’s future generations are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past as long as so-called Scar Literature remain outside their consciousness.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:30 am | Comment

But that is a sliver of the book, which is much more about hope and caring.

Yes, the poor Chinese people need the caring and love from me, oh are you not moved that I cared for them! Only an a democratic Westerner can give this kind of care and love, only a citizen from a country with democracy and elections can give this kind of love.

Like I said, if you want to make a quick buck, just write a book about AIDS/Poverty/Religious Freedom in China, and you’ll win a prize in the West, works each time.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:50 am | Comment

Leave it to HX to ruin another thread. Have you read the book? And the hope and the caring are in the Chinese people – their hope for a better life and caring about things like their families and expressing themselves. Anyway, one more nonsensical outburst and you’re going on the list.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:54 am | Comment

“Tell me, why is it that all popular books on China written by Westerners are about the suffering of the Chinese people”

Because all the happy/harmony books have already been written by the CCP. Your party has this habit of discarding misdeed and suffering from the books it endorses, old sport.

Anyway, it’s not about good news/bad news writing style, it’s about a guy describing his China experiences from the heart and telling like it was without politically motivated or pressured omission.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:55 am | Comment

Leave it to HX to ruin another thread. Have you read the book? And the hope and the caring are in the Chinese people – their hope for a better life and caring about things like their families and expressing themselves. Anyway, one more nonsensical outburst and you’re going on the list.

Sorry, my English is not good enough to read these high level Western books, too hard for me.

Thanks for your and the author’s caring for Chinese people, but Chinese people will take care of ourselves, thank you. You can devote your caring and love for your own affairs, such as the Swine Flu due to contaminated pork in American farms that is projected to kill 2 million Americans this year by your own health experts.

April 29, 2009 @ 9:03 am | Comment

how about we (chinese) send you 1 billion people and you try taking care of them, sorry my english is not great but i think u should understand me, have you been to india? have you thought about the population problem? china is trying to take care everyone but we really cant, chinese government just spend 850 billion on building hospitals and trying to improve poor people`s ability to see a doctor, i agree that we are not doing great now but I BELIEVE that one day we will success, and thank you for chinese people.

April 29, 2009 @ 9:23 am | Comment

Really interesting. I write a post about how much I enjoy a book that is extremely generous in its appreciation of China, and some people react as if I put up a hate message about the inferiority of the Chinese. “We don’t need appreciation from you Westerners!” Time to ask yourself if this is well-directed energy, and whether this post really merits scorn and loathing.

how about we (chinese) send you 1 billion people and you try taking care of them,

Nick, I am trying to figure out where your question is coming from and how it’s relevant to my description of finishing this book. I can see you saying this if I wrote something critical of China. But in this thread? Nothing.

April 29, 2009 @ 9:27 am | Comment

I just saw HX proudly bragging on a Chinese website http://www.6park.com that he is able to insult Americans in English at pekingduck.org and encouraged other Chinese to do the same http://club.6park.com/bolun/messages/73185.html

Chinese people are able to care about and govern themselves much better now than in the past when they were under Chairman Mao’s rule and surely can do even better. For example, they know to ask for foreign aid when the SiChuan earthquake struck, instead of refusing it and letting millions die needlessly as after TangShan quake; they have been trying hard to improve the living standard instead of letting countless people starve to death as in the early 60s;…

A lot of progress is being made since China opened up and learned from the West how to treat people right. Otherwise, They would remain as another N. Korea and choose face instead of life.

April 29, 2009 @ 10:00 am | Comment

Wow. Richard writes a nice post about a book he enjoyed, and this is the result? Swine flu?!

Okay, back to my attempts at translating this Chinese article that is wayyyy over my head. Slightly less frustrating.

April 29, 2009 @ 10:02 am | Comment

Being Chinese and lived in China 18 years myself, just wanted to add a few words.

I apologize on behalf of my people for turning the thread around. Forgive them for being over-sensitive of mentioning the name of their home country. Some of us are just tired of westerners focusing ONLY on the ugly side of the country. It’s true about the AIDS, it’s true about being non-democratic. We are smart, hard working and friendly people but somehow we are on every westerners’ “must-hate” list. (thanks to the biased media). I get a sense that we are viewed by most white folks here as pethetic, helpless who live in hell. Well, considering our living condition improve dramatically in the past 20 years, we maybe doing better than you think.

Here is the bottom line:
What more important, democracy or food, when you can get both?
If you think democracy is THAT important, try not eating for 3 days and answer again.
Chinese people simply choose not to starve, we were hungry once.

Sorry if I dragged the point further away, just want to put down my 2 cents. :)

April 29, 2009 @ 10:48 am | Comment

“that is when you can’t get both”…too bad it won’t let me edit

April 29, 2009 @ 10:49 am | Comment

Thank you for caring Chinese ppl.

Your idea about China is only based on one book? Hope you can read more books/articles about China. Feel it yourself.

Each country have their own problems. Chinese government is trying to take care of everyone but it won’t be easy.

Same as American government,are they doing a good job?

Mind your own business.

Maybe you should start some other topics such as “How to stop Iraq war?” or “Is the United States a really homocide country?”

April 29, 2009 @ 11:11 am | Comment

Interesting, Jay. I said nothing about AIDS. I said nothing about democracy. I said nothing about hating anyone. I said nothing about the ugly side of China. And yet suddenly a post about a book I enjoyed is turned into something…well, I’m not sure how to describe it. Bizarre is too mild.

But let’s look at this as a case study of injured feelings and permanent victimization. Just by referencing China and saying someone cares about the country is enough to get Red Star to open a thread on another site calling for readers to come attack. And look how easy it is to push the buttons. Because they were in attack mode before they came. There is simply no other way to explain it, because there is nothing in my post that should move anyone to fury or outrage. So I have to conclude the fury and outrage are already smoldering, and all it needs is a devil like Red Star to open the valve and let it come bursting out. Repeat: This post was not about democracy, it was not a criticism of China, it was not about politics, it was not condescending or patronizing, it was not coddling or over-sympathetic, it was not imperialist or orientalist. Red Star turned it into that, and you can watch him doing it step by step, and then his followers fall into line and pick up the ball. Then the usual hot-button topics are thrown in for good measure – the anti-China media, the need for food over democracy (which I’m not necessarily saying isn’t valid), etc.

This is not where I was hoping this thread would go,and it forces me to reconsider my leniency to the like of Hong Xing. I get slammed for not making comments totally open, and then I get slammed if I delete something obscene or intentionally disruptive. Well, I guess I’ll never please everybody. But this thread shows that even the most well-meaning and innocuous of posts can be transformed in a second into a radioactive flame war. I’ll have more to say about this later, but in the meantime I am delighted to announce I’m banning Hong Xing, and am prepared for the outraged chorus about how I owe him “free speech.”

April 29, 2009 @ 11:16 am | Comment

eew: Thank you for caring Chinese ppl. Your idea about China is only based on one book? Hope you can read more books/articles about China. Feel it yourself.

Obviously you are ignorant of this site. I have reviewed many books on China. This is the latest one I read. Why do you think this is the only book on China I’ve read?

April 29, 2009 @ 11:18 am | Comment

No Richard, I’m with you, 100%, I understand the initial intention of the thread, myself is shamed of the reaction of Hong Xing and some other folks here. Im just pointing out the source of all the outrage and anger, something I thought you should understand.
As you can see on http://www.6park.com/enter1/messages/89148.html, not all of us are reacting the same way HX did.

April 29, 2009 @ 11:36 am | Comment

Hey Richard. To be honest, I think you are a good guy :) . cuz your attitude: you replied seriously instead of mock,ironic which I used to find on youtube.
I dont want talk about over-sympathetic, democracy,autarchy or anything like this. I just want you know in my opinion, you are good LaoWai, hehe.

April 29, 2009 @ 11:52 am | Comment

Richard, I support you.

“I don’t believe you can possibly live in China and read this book without feeling a fundamental shift, a deeper appreciation of everything you see, a greater sadness at some of the nonsense and a more powerful love and appreciation of the people and all they’ve gone through and the miracle that they are where they are today.”

deeply touched. moved. will write something later on

April 29, 2009 @ 11:56 am | Comment

Thanks guys. HX also took the time to place the same message on the MIT BBS, saying my post “made him feel sick.” He’s a class act.

April 29, 2009 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

Richard, no matter how ridiculous HX is, one good thing that he did is to generate more traffic to your blog. I found your blog from his post on the MITBBS. But don’t worry, I am not here to 踢场子。

I read River Town about a year ago. It was a well-written story and a pleasant reading for me. But personally, I like his second book better, Oracle Bones, because when he wrote that book, he was more “Chinalized” than he was in Fuling and offered more insights about the culture and the people in China.

I am little bit surprised that you were so emotional when you read the final chapter, that you almost cried in public. I was touched by the pureness of the friendship built up between an American English teacher and a group of students from rural area, but not THAT touched. To put myself into your shoes, if I happened to read a novel written by Song Meiling (Chang Kai-sek’s wife) about how she, a foreigner in Macon Georgia, connected with local town folks when she studied in a local boarding school, I might feel the same urge to cry in public on MARTA of Atlanta, where I constantly reminded myself that I am a foreigner.

Things have changed dramatically since the year when Peter was in Fuling. One thing is that foreigners don’t draw a lot of attention even in a small town. Currently I live in a river town of the Yangtze similar size of Fuling, but way downstream from it. Last night, sitting in a local restaurant, I saw a foreigner walked in, ordered food and ate alone, without attracting any unwelcome attention during the whole process. He did complaint that the beer he ordered was not chilled enough. The waiter offered him to add ice in his warm beer. :-) You gonna love my countryman’s sincere kindness and I am sure people would learn quickly that number one, foreigners are paranoid about ice in China and number two, adding ice is not the proper way to chill a beer.

April 29, 2009 @ 4:12 pm | Comment

I actually read Oracle Bones first,about two years ago, and love that book as well. Very different, and more a story of investigative journalism in some respects, as well as a primer on archaeology in China, not to mention a very moving look into the lives of migrant workers in Shenzhen. And into the proposed reforms in the Chinese “alphabet” under Mao. And the Uigher situation. And the razing of hutongs in Beijing in the name of development. And a lot more.

The goodbye scene in River Town touched me on multiple levels, and I may have been reacting so strongly because I felt I knew the characters personally, and the image of them standing there in the rain fighting back tears as they say goodbye to someone who changed their lives and touched their hearts (and in their minds they were saying goodbye forever), was an emotional experience for me, maybe intensified by my own personal situation in China, as I try to decide whether to stay or leave after nearly three years. It brought to mind all the people I know and love here, and for a second I imagined that day for myself when I say goodbye to them all. I saw their faces, and felt for a moment how huge a void I would have in my life as my own boat departs. And that is tear-inducing, to say the least. Finally, I am by nature a little more prone to emotions than most, with a long history since very early childhood of crying over books, music poetry and exceptional acts of kindness or cruelty (different types of tears, of course).

Foreigners can still draw a lot of attention, even in second-tier cities, as my friend and sometimes co-blogger Lisa (she commented earlier in this thread) can tell you. We traveled together to Yunnan and Sichuan two months ago and were amazed at all the stares we received, even in the bigger cities like Kunming. This depended on where in the city we were; outside the Kunming bus station, where hundreds and hundreds of migrant workers were lying on the sidewalks, we probably got the most stares ever. I realize the Chinese people, even in the rural areas, are getting used to the laowai, but we still can generate long, curious looks. Lisa was even asked for her autograph somewhere along the way.

April 29, 2009 @ 4:29 pm | Comment

And last note to Kaizen: I appreciate the extra traffic Hong Xing may have generated for me, but I really prefer traffic to come from a more intelligent post. Red Star’s multiple postings on the MIT board and 6park were intended to incite and bring ridicule. I sincerely appreciate the fact that his effort seems to have backfired. Thanks for commenting.

April 29, 2009 @ 4:40 pm | Comment

@Richard – I remember taking a weekend visit to Chuzhou, Anhui province, back in 2003. I was sitting on a set of back-to-back benches in the train station waiting for my train back to Nanjing, and turned to look at the display board when I caught the eye of the man who was sitting with his family behind me. He turned back round to his children and said in a low voice “Kids! You’ll never believe who’s sitting behind us! It’s a Laowai!?!”, to which his kids replied “Oh dad, who are you trying to kid?”. A memory which makes me smile every time I think about.

By the way, Hongxing’s post over at 6park just shows 1) how bad his English is and 2) how much of a racist son of a bitch he is. At no point did Hessler ‘denounce’ China’s ‘miserable society’, at no point did you cry, at no point did you draw attention – but this is how he describes your post. He also describes the people on this thread as ‘devils’ who need to be ‘educated’.

April 29, 2009 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

Thanks FOARP. If Hong Xing were a type of coffee for sale on a supermarket shelf, he’d be labeled “A unique proprietary blend of evil and stupid.” And I don’t toss insults like that around lightly.

April 29, 2009 @ 5:25 pm | Comment

HX was bragging about his English? Isn’t that a bit like Deng Xiaoping bragging about his slam dunk ability?

April 29, 2009 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

At the risk of showing how rubbish my Chinese is, here’s some of the comments:

“Declaring yourself to be a national hero”

“This westerner is okay”

“Go your own way . . . let others speak”

“I don’t want to argue with laowais . . . no good comes of it, you can’t change their view point”

“Your ID . . . so magnificent. How are the Franco-Croat Squids (Fa Ke You), and Rivers Crabs?”

“This guy was a fen qing years ago on Military.com”

“Many Chinese still live difficult lives, this laowai is alright, what’s your problem with him?”

(in answer to the above) “This blog arrogantly criticises China for fun, they are all laowais living in China”

April 29, 2009 @ 6:39 pm | Comment

Personally, I particularly enjoyed the bit where he calls commenters here American imperialists and says they are just unable to understand the limits of liberal democracy. Perhaps this is why we need to be not just educated but “fiercely” educated.

I respectfully suggest to any new Chinese friends that they take the time to look over some of the past posts, get a flavour of the blog and then respond. It is also helpful if they actually read the post and have some knowledge of the book that is being discussed. They would then have more of a chance of not looking as ridiculous as Hongxing.

I really enjoyed River Town too, Richard. I also really love Oracle Bones and the way that the two books fit together, but are not of one piece. I particularly enjoyed reading his account of spending Chinese New Year with his Chinese friends. I think that really showed the genuine warmth and kindness that many Chinese extend to foreigners and reminded me also of some of the wonderful experiences I had in China. I am sure your thoughts must be much the same.

April 29, 2009 @ 7:01 pm | Comment

FOARP, thanks again. My reading skill isn’t quite high enough to get the nuances. Appreciate it. Amusing/sad to see it kind of blow up in HX’s face.

April 29, 2009 @ 7:32 pm | Comment

Si, sorry your comment got caught in the spam filter. After I saw HX’s posts I expected a flood of angry, indignant comments. I’m really happy to see the BBS readers doing their own thinking and making their own judgments.

About CNY dinner, you read my own post about that, I hope? If not, this is the link.

April 29, 2009 @ 7:35 pm | Comment

That’s no problem Richard. Please feel free to delete comment 34 as a double post. I take it you haven’t actually got a flood of angry, indignant comments? Good to hear!

I did read your cny post – one of your best, I thought…

April 29, 2009 @ 7:52 pm | Comment

Lol, HK would make an outstanding neocon over here in the states. Looks like he loves to have enemies. How he could turn this post into an angry tirade against the US being responsible for the swine flu that is sure to kill 2 millions people is masterful. Sounds like the type of guy that could go to the UN and convince the world that millions of people are gonna die, die I tell you, because there are WMD’s everywhere!

Its sad that these threads get hijacked and generate so many comments due to the ignorant ramblings of a troll. I think a big part of being ‘radical’ is the need for attention. Please, can we all agree to just ignore these blatant cries for help in the future? These people aren’t looking for constructive debate, they are looking for a fight. I wish a global movement would get started where the level headed people in the world decide to simply ignore the HK’s and Limbaughs of the world and marginalize them. I’ve just wasted 10 minutes on that troll and won’t be wasting a second more.

April 29, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

I try to run a big-tent blog, with mutants and freaks all welcome. But I’m definitely cracking down, filtering comments and banishing blatant trollsters like Hong Xing.

April 29, 2009 @ 11:22 pm | Comment

It was when we were on the plane from Beijing to Kunming – several giggly teen girls wanted to have their picture taken with me. I have no idea why! They were very sweet, so I smiled and posed with them. In other places, this wouldn’t have surprised me so much, but I was a little surprised that it happened on a plane leaving from Beijing.

Then there was the restaurant in Chengdu – remember, Richard? We arrived late and a group of staffers was having dinner, and they got very excited and started taking photos of us. Again it was surprising because this was just down the street from a well-known restaurant that’s in all the guidebooks.

To me, it’s still so much less than my experiences years ago that it takes something a little extraordinary for me to notice these days. But in general, a lot of country folk still aren’t much used to seeing laowai, so the stares are pretty understandable there.

April 30, 2009 @ 4:23 am | Comment

“HX also took the time to place the same message on the MIT BBS, saying my post “made him feel sick.” He’s a class act.”

I think it’s testament to this blog’s tolerance that he/she lasted so long. Not just your average troll either – a particularly malevolent west-hating variant who epitomises a dangerous trend.

April 30, 2009 @ 3:10 pm | Comment

Richard, I enjoyed your moving and thoughtful comments on the wonderful River Town, really an outstanding book. What an amazing coincidence that you were reading the conclusion as your bus turned onto your original Beijing street!

And Richard, my friend, may I offer a hearty Gongxi! for showing HongXing the Exit. Long overdue! There is no obligation for you to allow ill-wishers free use of your carefully constructed and lovingly maintained soapbox. Your comments threads have long been an additional draw to your blog, no need to let buffoons such as HX hijack them for their own malignant uses. Good riddance. Now, don’t let that new policy get dusty. ;-)

Next time I see OtherLisa, I think I will ask her for her autograph. Then I can sell it on TaoBao. :-)

April 30, 2009 @ 3:10 pm | Comment

You can say you knew me when, Slim!

April 30, 2009 @ 4:27 pm | Comment

I read RT a few years ago. Dear to my heart because it was and is so well written and I am a ex PCV too.

May 1, 2009 @ 9:02 am | Comment

I’ve been referencing Hessler a lot in my posts recently – Don’t Give Up Eating for Fear of Choking and Mobile Shanzhai. I have about eighty pages left in the book. Am looking forward to finishing it.

I wasn’t sure how relevant the book would still be when I started “River Town.” I knew that it was based on Hessler’s experiences almost ten years ago in China. Seeing how fast China changes, I didn’t have much confidence that a lot of it would still hold true today.

Those fears were completely unfounded and I agree with Richard. “River Town” is a must-read for any foreigner living in China. Hessler’s writing and grasp of contemporary China is incredible.

Although I hesitate to lump them together because they are very different, I really like that two very prominent western writers on China – Peter Hessler and Edgar Snow – both come from near my hometown – Kansas City. (Hessler is actually from Columbia, MO, but that is close enough for me)

All I have is a very amateurish China blog. But I like to think that I am, at least to some extent, following in the footsteps of these guys from the heartland of the US who’ve come to the heartland of China and written about their experiences.

May 7, 2009 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

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