River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze PDF Ã River

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze PDF Ã River


10 thoughts on “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.)

  1. Shovelmonkey1 Shovelmonkey1 says:

    China is bafflingly massive And that is a bonafide geographical fact people You can get one of those old fashioned things called a map and have a look See I am not wrong Not only is it massive but the PRC is also the most populous country in the world with a population of over 13 billion How do you even go about counting that many people How do you get them all to stand still for long enoughPeter Hessler author of River Town Two Years on the Yangtze went to China not to check population statistics but to immerse himself in the culture and physical geography of a place which still seems mysterious to a large portion of the world beyond China's borders The result is a book which carefully documents Hessler's time and experiences living in the river town of Fuling on the banks of the Yangtze Hessler is an engaging writer but from the outset I found myself wondering why I should care about two years in the life of an American Peace Corps volunteer probably in much the same way that people might wonder why they should care about my opinions of this or any other book Why indeedHessler presents the day to day minutiae of life on the Yangtze in a way which retains its personal element but also references the wider historical and cultural aspects which have moulded the lives of the residents of River Town Fuling Part travelogue part diary part Cliff notes to China's long and varied history this book is a strong introduction to a culture which some may regard is largely impenetrable After all so many books have been written on China it is difficult to know where to start Most interesting of all is the way in which Hessler and his friends gradually infiltrated the local traditions and way of life It took time and patience but a polite determination to learn the language and self depreciating humour allowed him a view point that few other short term visitors would getDespite this book being a chance find it is one that I'm glad to have read and I'm keen to learn about China Hessler has recently moved to the Middle East as a foreign correspondent and I look forward to seeing what his output from Cairo might be


  2. Donna Donna says:

    I read this for my book club and it was unexpectedly difficult for me to get through it I'm not completely sure why that is since the author's true life experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1996 1998 in Fuling a remote Chinese village were interesting and well written But it was also repetitive and with too many details piled one on top of another making for dense reading that slowed the book down That and my incredulous reaction to some of Hessler's negative impressions of the Chinese people and their culture which had me stopping and thinking times than I could count He had me shaking my head when he would grow frustrated by his students bowing their heads at their desks from something he said that offended them or made them uncomfortable This truly frustrated me as did the altercations he became involved in when living there much as I tried seeing things from his point of view But this was than an account of Peter Hessler educating future teachers in China about the subjects of English literature and culture It was a progression of him learning much himself and much about himself during that time When he first arrived in Fuling with another volunteer who would become a good friend Peter was a bit naive and had dreams of making a favorable impression on the Chinese people he encountered since this was the first time in fifty years than any Americans had been allowed to live in that remote area with its population of 200000 He also wanted people mainly his students to be aware of their own oppression in comparison to living as an American He wanted them to rally against the rules and seek freedom by thinking freely instead of swallowing propaganda whole This really surprised me as I thought his main objective besides teaching should be the sharing of cultural differences to form a bridge of acceptance and not a gulf of disparity Fortunately as both an observer and participant he learned many lessons along the way outside of those taught formally by his tutors when he was learning the language in that region He came to understand that not everyone has the luxury of deciding what their lives will be like or have any power to change things or even wish to This was a very candid look at Hessler's slow going transformation in understanding culture differences and perceptions within their context While he saw the land being changed by the people to make use of it for agricultural purposes he learned the people saw themselves changed by the land such as their beauty or temperament being influenced by living near the mountains and or by being closer to the water And then there were lessons like this that he learned later on from assignments his students turned in Each generation has its own happiness and sadness To younger generation the important thing is understanding instead of criticizing Our elder generation was unlucky; they didn't own a good chance and circumstances to realize their value But their spirit their love to our country set a good example for usThis was the best part of this book the personal stories and ideas his students shared with him and him coming to know a good handful of people whom he would be able to call friends by the end of his two years there And the village itself with its constant noise and pollution and with Hessler fighting illness for two years it was satisfying to learn that it became something like home to him eventually and not something to fight against as he had fought against a number of people who taunted him for being an outsider It became a place rather beautiful to him such as this poetic passage he wrote indicates when celebrating the Chinese New Year At the stroke of midnight the entire city gathered itself and roared its voice reverberating back and forth across the Wu the windows of the buildings flickering in reflections of sparks and bursts of fire The old year died; evil spirits fled; deep in the valley's heart the Wu trembled its water colored by the bright shadow of the blazing city And finally midnight passed and the fireworks faded and we were left with a new year as empty and mysterious as the river that flowed silently through the valleyThis book should make for an interesting book club discussion of both Fuling and its residents during that time and of the author who spent two years in his late twenties growing up there


  3. Ensiform Ensiform says:

    A volunteer for the Peace Corps Hessler lived in Fuling a little town in Sichuan province on the delta of the Yangtze and Wu rivers for two years teaching English As one of the few Westerners in the town since World War II Hessler becomes the focus of not always kind attention in town but as he learns Chinese and of the Chinese way of doing things he sees his place clearly and almost at times seems to fit into the daily life there Of course nearly everything in China is political the literature he teaches is used by his students as a springboard to analyze their own lives even as Hessler learns how hard it is to broach certain subjects in a culture where everyone is brought up to believe the same thingsWritten in calm meditative prose this is an excellent entry into the annals of the Westerner in China body of memoirs Hessler is wise beyond his years and his China or rather his Fuling is never of the sadly typical “oh look how foreign everything is” variety He recognizes full well how foreign he himself is and even during his lowest points of cultural contact – when men try to pick fights with him simply because he’s a Westerner – he reports with a detached and reflective eye He learns rather uickly how to deal with some of the illogical bureaucracy – I enjoyed his clever face saving solution when confronted with the lie that he was reuired to get a chest X ray to participate in a foot race for example – but he is troubled and bemused by certain other aspects of Chinese culture He cites the lack of empathy and collectivist thinking that he saw in Chinese crowds and the disturbing lack of fixed individual values in a culture where “wrong” thinking can become “right” as easily as it takes for an authority to say it In his own small circle of students and friends he hears of two deaths a suicide and a kidnapping of a woman to become a forced bride Near the end of the book he muses that he can only brush against “the slightest sense of the dizzying past” that informed the values and behaviors that he encounters His Fuling is as he says “a human place” and that puts his memoir in the top ranks of its kind


  4. Chrissie Chrissie says:

    Interesting and well written but some sections could have been tightened The author spent two years 1996 1998 as a Peace Corp volunteer in Fuling China It is a remote town located in the Yangtze River Valley in the heartland of the Sichuan province He taught English he learned Chinese and through his own learning teaching talking and living with these people he comes to understand what it is to be Chinese His experience was one of total immersion What he learned he has shared with us and we don’t have to get sick as he did We don’t have to be ostracized as he was Two things make this book better than most such books by Peace Corps volunteers He really came to understand the people he lived with and his writing is better than most


  5. Rachel Rachel says:

    For those who think this book is incredibly dull I must say I don't think it was intended to be a work of entertainment It often reads like a personal journal which can be both charming and a chore If you're patient I think you'll find it reasonably pleasant to settle in and listen to Peter Hessler tell his story For those who say that Peter Hessler is a conceited jerk mmm I don't buy that He makes observations about how rude and petty many of the Chinese people are and he also freely admits to losing his temper and he feels remorse for instances when he treated other people cruelly While he clearly cares about being kind to others and being empathetic to the various sides he doesn't try to pretend that he's Mr Wonderful and Always Kind and Patient in Every Scenario Nope sometimes he is kind of a jerk as most of us sometimes are especially when we're stressed The fact that Hessler is able to admit to these things honestly and humbly is to his credit I think Now that we got that out of the way I think this is an excellent memoir After reading about all the struggles that Peter Hessler had trying to adjust to life in the polluted noisy filthy crowded town of Fuling and how hard he worked to learn the language and make a difference for his students I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat as I read the last couple of pages when Peter made his final departure from Fuling I liked learning about different aspects of recent Chinese history as the author brought up pieces here and there prompted by people and places in the story I also thought that the excerpts from the students' writing samples sprinkled throughout the narrative greatly added to the story Peter Hessler is from Missouri like me the Show Me State and I appreciated how he told it as he saw it often times being uite critical of the Chinese people he met Alas sometimes Hessler even seemed to be ridiculing the Chinese people which is a reason why I think some of the reviewers think he is an arrogant jerk Here is one example from pages 234 235 of my paperback 499 pages Perhaps the strangest part of the Chinese fascination with Hitler was that simultaneously they had a deep respect for the Jewish people Jews were the next best thing to Chinese they were an extremely intelligent race as one could tell from examples of Einstein and Marx Ideas of this sort were standard and completely predictable There were buttons you could push Hitler Jews the Japanese the Opium Wars Tibetans Taiwan and 90 percent of the time you could predict the precise reaction including specific phrases people would use It was natural enough given China's conditions; virtually everybody was the same race the country had been isolated for centuries and the current education system was strictly standardized and politically controlledAnd it was also natural that these conditions resulted in some particularly bizarre notions like the admiration of Hitler or the fascination with Thai transvestites It was interesting to figure out these common beliefs and occasionally you could work them to your advantage During the summer my sister Angela and Todd her Stanford colleague had been bored by eating meals with their Chinese interpreter so I gave them a list of subjects that would surely make things entertaining It seems Hessler is ridiculing the Chinese people for holding stupidly to stereotypes and not thinking for themselves I'm sure many people would be offended by this but you know what this is his memoir and the scorn that he felt was real I hope there's nothing wrong with him documenting that It just shows that he's not a saint and honestly did we expect him to be oneThere were also parts of the book that made me laugh out loud For example at the beginning of the book Peter Hessler kept seeing Communist propaganda messages together with the names of sponsors such as Magnificent Sound Cigarettes a private company so it's a bit ironic and one of the common phrases was Socialism with Chinese Characteristics Because of pressure from the Communist Party over what he could teach he had to modify his literature class to be what he jokingly called Shakespeare with Chinese Characteristics etc Eventually there is a faculty basketball tournament and the referee is biased against Peter and Adam the two Peace Corps volunteers not wanting the foreigners to win So Peter and Adam drop out of the tournament because of all the bad referee calls Afterward Peter was talking to his Mandarin tutor a very prim and proper Chinese lady Peter called the referee a bad egg and the tutor told Peter he was wrong to say that; he was dribbling wrong and was not playing basketball the Chinese way Peter was already exasperated with his tutor who had been very stern constantly correcting his Mandarin without ever giving him any positive feedback On page 74 he wrote She said it in hopes of ending the argument tactfully because she saw that I was annoyed But I had already heard too many explanations about 'the Chinese way' and I did not want to lectured about Basketball with Chinese Characteristics and so he exploded in an indignant rant to the teacher about how basketball is an American game that he knew uite well and he wasn't about to be lectured about playing it the Chinese way OK Basketball with Chinese Characteristics yes that's it that's what made me laugh out loud when it appeared on the page Hmm not funny now OK maybe you had to be there One thing I found very poignant in the book was how Peter and Adam found ways to teach the students by having them perform skits and other creative activities despite resistance from the Communist officials For example Peter had his students put on Dickens' A Christmas Carol as a play but the Communist leaders of the school would not allow him to teach the students Christmas carols even if they were secular ones p 336 No said Dean Fu still smiling tightly I'm afraid that we can have no songs about Christmas I'm sorry but you know it is not my decision I could have pointed out that even in the spring the campus propaganda speakers as part of the noon entertainment program often played a Muzak version of What Child is This But I knew the argument was hopeless; there was no logic to any of it And in the same spirit I instructed my classes to replace the Christmas carols with patriotic Communist songs which is anything improved Dickens My favorite scene was when a furious Scrooge swung his cane at a band of merry carolers who were belting out The East is Red singing the praises of Mao Zedong while the old man shouted HumbugToward the end of the book they have a school play where Cervantez' Don uixote is adapted for Chinese audiences In the students' version Don uixote is instead Lei Feng a famous Communist worker martyr and he offers Sancho Panza the island of Taiwan if he will join in on the adventure In another assignment Peter Hessler studies Shakespeare's Sonnet Eighteen Shall I compare thee to a summer's day etc with his students In this section Peter notes that his Chinese students were advanced at understanding the rhythm of poetry than their American counterparts p 42 Peter has the students write essays to describe the woman in Shakespeare's poem Many of the students' responses are very similar writing in English but using classical Chinese cliches to describe a woman's beauty such as comparing her fingers to scallions or to the roots of an onion comparing her hair to a waterfall and comparing her eyebrows to the leaves of a willowAnother excellent assignment was when Peter assigned the class to study Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle pp 170 171 The students performed skits; one group acted out a Chinese Rip Van Winkle who had fallen asleep in 1930 and woken up in 1950 another group did a Rip who had fallen asleep in 1948 and woken up in 1968 and so on He had seven groups each highlighting a different piece of recent Chinese history Given all the changes that have happened in China over the past 100 years I thought this was brilliantAnother thing I found interesting was the reaction of the locals to the building of the Three Gorges Dam back then the dam was under construction Although the people were living in these centuries old villages for the most part they didn't seem concerned about losing the old towns The old towns were dirty and crowded and the people wanted to move somewhere new Peter says that there was strong opposition to the project from academics and intellectuals p105 But there were always voices of dissent Even in the 1980s as Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng moved closer to beginning actual work on the dam it was one of the few major issues in China that could be debated publicly Criticism was accepted and there was no shortage of it; many experts believed that constructing a series of smaller dams on the Yangtze and its tributaries would have many of the same benefits without the risks The debates continued until finally in 1987 the government tired of this version of democracy and silenced it If China's leaders wanted the largest dam in the world it would be built regardless of the risks None of the difficulties mattered the silt the earthuakes the lost relics the extinct species the displaced peasants The experts could be ignored just as they had been ignored so many times in the past; when Mao encouraged high birth rates in the 1950s and 1960s; when the Great Leap Forward was launched; when the Cultural Revolution began Sometimes you need decision rather than debate There's no sense in giving up eating for fear of chokingNow this last sentence ties in to an earlier theme in the chapter Mr Hessler had used an essay on the Three Gorges Dam provided by the Chinese textbook as a model of a persuasive essay The essay gave a standard essay format beginning with points in opposition to the dam Then as a transition before proceeding to the points in favor of the dam the essay used the phrase But we should not give up eating for fear of choking After that time to Mr Hessler's great dismay the students used that exact same phrase as a transition point any time they wrote an argumentative essay whether the subject was the pro's and cons of morning exercises or an analysis of Shakespeare's Hamlet p 100 I believe this phrase was an example of how much Mr Hessler hated the lack of independent thinking original ideas and follow the pack mentality that many of the students displayedA nice literary device I wanted to mention was how Peter Hessler spent a few pages pp 94 98 writing about the White Crane Ridge which was a rock or a small island about 240 feet long in the Yangtze river with thousands of years of inscriptions on it Mostly the inscriptions noted the date and the level of the water and some of them had predictions about next year's harvest etc There was also a famous carving of twin carp from the Tang Dynasty The next chapter is a detailed story about the Three Gorges Dam you continuing reading on this new topic and then just when you've nearly forgotten about the White Crane Ridge he mentions how the Three Gorges Dam will affect the town of Fuling p 101 and among other things he says the new reservoir will be than 130 feet above the Tang Dynasty twin carpI thought that was a very nice literary touch as he got us all excited about the White Crane Ridge and how nice it must be to visit it and a few pages later we learn that it would soon be lost forever On page 106 Hessler mentions that archeologists were proposing ways to preserve these cultural relics In response Hessler writes p 106 All of these plans and complaints greatly annoyed the forces that were pushing the dam forward Wei Tingcheng the seventy year old chief engineer who spent virtually his entire professional life developing the project scoffed at the palaces that archeologists were proposing To tell you the truth he said in a 1996 interview with the New York Times the common people of China have such a low education level that they will not be able to enjoy these cultural relics and only some of these experts will go to these museums It wasn't a particularly tactful remark but in some ways it addressed an important issue a country like China is accustomed to making difficult choices that Americans might not dream of considering I thought of this every time I visited the White Crane Ridge where I was always amazed to see the conjunction of the ancient carvings and the timeless river Nowhere else had I felt so strongly that there are two types of history nature's and man's and that one is a creature of cycles while the other with mixed results aims always at straightness progress development control And on the Yangtze I sensed that it was a particularly dangerous violation to force these together pressing the river's cycles into stagnancy behind the long line of the dam But this was a poetic turn of thought and most people in Fuling couldn't afford it They didn't have the time or interest to visit the White Crane Ridge and they didn't worry much about the relationship between man and nature Often there were no other tourists on the ridge besides me and the only time I ever saw a big crowd was the day I researched my story about the carvings which was on on a weekend during the Spring Holiday Festival in 1998 Even educated people often weren't interested If you wanted to see local history it wasn't necessary to go to the hassle of taking a boat you could wander into the countryside and stumble upon ing dynasty tombs without even searchingThere is a lot to this book and for once I don't think it was too long I usually complain about how books should have been edited way down But this time I think all the pieces presented in this 400 page diary were important in describing Peter Hessler's two years in western China I like the way some of the chapters are simply memories which stand on their own and don't lead to anything else like in real life Meanwhile other chapters do relate to the others and help to propel the narrator forward I think I'd like to give this either 3 stars or 4 stars I would give it 5 stars for technical mastery and completeness If I were grading this for a class certainly it would be an A maybe even an A depending on what the other students turned in But as far as as my personal enjoyment of the book I need to bring it down to 3 or 4 stars This is partly because the book can be a bit dull at times but mostly it's because it's rather depressing to read how close minded many of the Chinese people are and how poor the cities are and how many people there are living in those conditions Most of the time the book doesn't evoke much sympathy other than pity possibly for the people and it certainly reinforces a lot of negative stereotypes about the Chinese But I don't want to criticize the book for this; it was simply the narrator's experience and that is valid and I do appreciate Peter Hessler's honesty Nonetheless so many negative words about the Chinese people and the narrators' constant battles with corruption and small mindedness tended to wear me down after awhile All of this made me weary of this book just as I'm sure the narrator became weary of life in Fuling One saving grace was that Peter was able to understand people better once he was able to talk to people and the students especially in their own language He found that much of the formality and lack of humor sometimes perceived as rudeness slipped away when the people were able to speak in their native tongue The students spoke candidly about their feelings about the government etc when able to converse in their native language; on top of that Peter Hessler could see of their playful joking sides which is so important for pleasant person to person interactions This may speak to the importance of foreign language instruction here in the United States Perhaps listening as someone discusses his or her country's problems in his or her own language can relieve tension and make people feel at ease If Peter Hessler's observations are transferable it sounds like it might be a good idea to put emphasis on learning foreign languages here in the US I believe this may be a much better way of promoting peace and understanding in the world as opposed to advanced weaponry and nuclear arms races etc


  6. Anna Anna says:

    this was the one of MANY peace corps memoirs i suffered through reading material choices were limited to our paltry communal bookshelves in the volunteer lounge of the swaziland peace corps office anyway i used to write a monthly literature review box or our volunteer newsletter and one month i ranted about this genre below are my thoughts Dissecting the Peace Corps Memoir One of my least favorite genres of nonfiction is hands down the “peace corps memoir” I attribute it to both the fact that I am a volunteer myself and thus critical of the actual content And then probably due to the sheer volume that I read I’m picky about writing appreciating only good prose More often then not I feel like returned volunteers have good stories to tell and get book contracts for these stories without actually possessing the literary training or raw talent to pull them off Even the most talented editors couldn’t fix these calamities Just to prove that it doesn’t matter how bad of a writer you are as long as your granddaddy is famous you can get a book deal Jason Carter’s Power Lines is an embarrassment to his Duke education Stylistically his sentences and paragraphs fall flat lacking cohesion And grammatically he leaves the reader reaching for her copy of Strunk White The award for most frustrating goes to Susana Herrera whose Mango Elephants in the Sun made me want to jab blunt objects into my eye sockets as I waded through nonsensical odes to lizards and out of place poems I couldn’t tell if she wanted the reader to feel sorry for her or be envious I suppose in the end it didn’t matter because I felt neither I found Sarah Erdman’s Nine Hills to Nambonkaha one of the newest in the genre to be nauseatingly pretentious and self congratulatory From a literary standpoint the lack of coherent theme or message was disappointing As I’ve mentioned in a previous entry Geneva Sander’s The Gringo Brought His Mother is ridiculously absurd It’s a memoir written by a volunteer’s mother after a month long trip to visit her son The mother is completely nutty and paints a pathetic portrait of her son; then again whose mother actually writes a peace corps memoir Moritz Thomsen’s Living Poor was mind numbingly boring and topped only by Peter Hessler’s River Town Hessler’s was so dull that even Kelly training director couldn’t finish it And in the “who cares” category is Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery’s Dear Exile a collection of letters the two friends wrote back and forth during Montgomery’s service Liftin was stateside The reader is treated to a nearly constant string of Montgomery’s complaints to her friend about rural village life in Kenya It’s very hard to muster up sympathy for her bouts of diarrhea when I and all the other volunteers in Swaziland still heroically troop to the pit latrine through thick and thin It’s not however a complete waste of a genre Two gems sparkle in the rough including Mike Tidwell’s The Ponds of Kalambayi Tidwell does not shy away from his own shortcomings and writes candidly of his own vices and addictions His clear and concise prose paints a vivid and enthralling picture of the fisheries program in Zaire And then there is George Parker’s The Village of Waiting The first memoir to take a critical look at post colonial class race and culture issues that surround the Peace Corps experience Not only is Parker’s writing heads above the best he’s a Pushcart Prize winning writer whose work has appeared in Harper’s Dissent and The New York Times he’s also brutally honest about his work as white western volunteer living in an African village acknowledging the inherent problems and paradoxesless


  7. Matthew Matthew says:

    Halfway through River Town I can't help but observe that Pete Hessler was just 27 when he arrived to teach English for the Peace Corp in Fuling the town on which his memoirtravelogue is based My favourite books are like this I can't help but see blurred reflections of myself in them I wish I'd read Hessler before I went to China for exchange in 2002 but I try to forgive myself the immaturity at that stage; after all I was just 21 then It seems so old though 21 after NS and compared to how adult 21 year olds seem when you read about them in books about developing countries 27 year old Hessler seems so intelligent about travel so able to observe the surroundings and people and himself at the same time perhaps a function of his literatureanthropology background at Princeton I turn 27 in just over a month and River Town makes me wonder about whether I'm as mature a reporter as he is I'm no longer a reporter to be sure but I think of it less as a profession than as a way of being a mode of living of openness at a personal level and of penetrating different niches of experience and observing and thinking through them eventually perhaps writing about themIn any case here's a comment he makes deep into the book which I think is so uintessentially journalistic He's describing how he tried to use English to broach sensitive political topics with his students when he first arrived and failed but later as he picked up Chinese managed to do soAt last I realised that the fear wasn't of somebody else hearing It was a uestion of comfort because uncertain topics were easily handled in their native language But also I sensed that the true fear was of themselves virtually all the limits had been established in their own minds English had been learnt at school and thus is was indistinguishable from the educational system and its political regulations it was a school language a waiguoren language and in both contexts they had been trained to think and speak carefullyMore immediate than a historian would write and observational than a fiction writer would dictate I thinkAnd elsewhere later just because I like this observation and not because its espescially poetic or anything Of his students he writes They were tough and sweet and funny and sad and people like that would always survive I wonder about thatOn the whole though I'd say Oracle Bones his second book based on his later years in China as a freelance feature writer and New Yorker correspondent is better written He's perfected the feature magazine pace by then the break in tone and subject the circling back to subjects the timed release of detail vital to the story like blood from a drip River Town is straightforward less polished his descriptions ramble but in that sense its also poetic a scene ends and you're not sure what the point is because there is no point its perhaps simply the writing down of a memory and there is in that than can be summarised into a point


  8. Hallie Taylor Hallie Taylor says:

    Since writing this book Peter Hessler has established himself as one of the premier journalists writing about life in China today You'll find his pieces in the New Yorker and the Atlantic River Town is well worth reading It is an introspective memoir of his first two years of living in somewhat rural China and is also very well written I met two of Peter Hessler's Peace Corps comrades in 1996 or 1997 in Xishuangbanna I remember them telling me about their experiences and frustrations working in rural Sichuan I guess it was during spring festival time so that would be early 1997 Having lived in Sichuan during the mid to late 80's with my family I was very familiar with the region and I loved talking to these guys Hessler's accounts of his experiences rang very true to me and it is enjoyable to see what he learns about the people around him during his time in Fuling All in all I'm a little biased because I loved reading this book because it is about Sichuan a place that is both familiar and well loved by me You may particularly enjoy this if you have some experience and interest in China but it's all around a great book


  9. Ryan Louis Ryan Louis says:

    David Sedaris told me to read this book So I didAt a public reading Sedaris made a recommendation for what he called someone who can actually write Oh David SedarisI've read Hessler's New Yorker articles and love them So it didn't come as much surprise that this ended up being good The funny thing though is that even though I was familiar with and appreciated the author I started the book seriously skeptical I'm not super patriotic or anything if I'm anything super it would be super libs but I do find myself buying into the punditry and its usually negative rhetoric regarding ChinaAs I started River Town I was uite resistant to the point where reaching actual empathy felt as probable as me going to the moonOh how happy I am to come down off my pedestal This richly rewarding novel is full of beautiful passages It's not uite coming of age because the main character is 27 But it's one of those coming into their own memoirs And conseuently because the author's journey was so manifestly transformative I found MY journey to be as wellBasically the memoir follows Mr Hessler through his Peace Corps experiences in a small ish town in Sichuan Province Fuling during the Clinton Era As he negotiates cultural boundaries he gets hit albeit slowly by a concatenation of revelations interpersonal intercultural all humanizing In our current Geopolitical Battle Royale or as I'm being led to see things these days an International Hunger Games I forget that the most manipulating thing about politics is that it makes us forget the real people subject to neolithic systems like autocratic regimesBooks out about why we should FEAR China make the best seller list and regretfully alienate readers enough to avoid finding common groundBut after this book I find myself using engaging examples about China in all my classes I feel empathic at once and yet feel objective enough to freely criticize I know I'm only one book in but it's revelatory to consider both sides of the China coin one that is not entirely Western or Chinese To demand change from a country with traditions stretching back millennia undermines the value of culture; to ignore the objectionable human rights abuses eually undermining Hessler finds a middle ground One that I hope provides insight for a way forward together


  10. Larry Bassett Larry Bassett says:

    I read this in the book format a considerable time ago I am now going to listen to it in the audible format along with the Kindle version I remember enjoying the several books by this author about China in the past My interest was prompted by our adoption of a 3 12 year old girl from China She is now nearly 18 years old and we have a short lifetime of history with her——————— Sorry this is too long I’ll try not to do it againYou do need to remember that these events happened 14 years ago in a country that is changing incredibly uickly Fuling is no longer an isolated city; it is accessible by train expressway and boatIf you want to know about China – and who doesn’t – read this book Me I have the second Peter Hessler book published in 2006 to read Oracle Bones A Journey Between China’s Past and Present August 18 2003 issue of Time Asia with an update by Peter Hessler about Fulinghttpwwwtimecomtimeasia2003joAnd even this is seven years agoRiver Town is like a movie made with a hand held camera occasionally jumpy but some great close up shots Hessler takes you through two years 1996 97of living in a small Chinese city 200000 in Sichuan provinceThe writing style of the book is casual and collouial complete with hell and damn with an occasional travelogue feel Hessler shows a wide screen view but then shifts down to personal details in which he was a participant You go into the homes and businesses of the city with him as well as going along on some interesting adventures He presents an honest account of his experiences along with a good deal of information about the 20th century history of life in China He finds the city dirty from coal dust and noisy from car horns Humorously he relates the number of honksminute from an actual count of their cab driver in a 15 minute trip Could it be 37 Set against this oasis of noise and grit “the mountains are green and impressive” There are no bicycles due to the steepness of the mountainous area There are numerous steps with some businesses actually on small terraces next to the steps And there are porters who earn a living carting things up and down the steps Manual labor is the norm for everything in the book I can’t think of anything other than the cars that were mechanized Of course there are the cell phones and beepers Actually not that many since this is a very poor area One restaurant owner is mentioned as having a fake beeper on his belt for showSometimes Hessler can overdo it “There are stunned bushes and exhausted flowers and broken hearted patches of grass” You might call it sappy or flowery but I mostly liked his turn of a phrase Peter and Adam teach English and English literature at a teacher’s college Their students are almost uniformly coming from a peasant background Hessler shares uite a few things written by his students They are informative and many are poignant; he uses this material to buttress his arguments He writes a little like an English Major and I should know since I am one With the help of tutors flash cards repetition and immersion in the city he spoke well in Chinese by the end of the first year and was using Chinese as his primary language for many of his remaining months He considered himself as two people the one who spoke English and the one who spoke Chinese Because of his fluency in Chinese he was able to develop many kinds of relationships with people who lived there He found that people are different when you can talk with them in their own language He learns the local dialect and becomes a common sight in many places in the city He also learned to read written Chinese not bad for a boy from Missouri Hessler takes us on an anthropological adventure deep into another culture with his writing We go to the Three Gorges Dam project that will put eventually flood the valley for hundreds of miles and force many people to relocate and he talks directly with the people affected There are signs throughout the valley marking where the water will eventually reach People go about their daily lives around the signs Would you call River Town a valid ualitative sociological study He doesn’t suggest any methodology other than talking with people observing and living with the people for two years He does have some statistics scattered throughout But he is predominantly subjective as he is living his study He lives in a relatively elite apartment building on campus Maybe he is one of those ivory tower academics living in his little protected territory Hessler has written two substantial books about life in China since this book Some people including some who have lived in China have challenged his conclusions I believe himPolitics is throughout the book Hessler is clearly not objective about the politics that he deals with in his daily work as a teacher and off campus Is he anti communist He is opposed to how communism happens in the China that he lives in He says “In some ways this is what I had grown to loathe the most about communism I could almost bear the falseness and the lies but I could not forgive its complete absence of humor China was a grim place once you took the laughter away” But he did give a variety of views and interpretations of how communism works in China I wonder what the administrators at the Chinese college thought when this book first appeared in 2001 Communism with Chinese Characteristics and democracy come up freuently as Hessler attempts to encourage his students who have primarily learned by rote to do some independent thinking The book certainly suggests that he had some success His description of the path that took is well written and informative It is a 400 page book so lots of things happen You will have to read the book to see how one class skit moves from a study of Rip Van Winkle to a skit about the Cultural Revolution Hessler makes a good argument for language skill in diplomats so that negotiations do not have to be passed through interpreters And he does not mean that everyone should learn to speak English With his students “uncertain topics were easily handled in their native language” Overcoming “cultural barriers that had made things so difficult in the beginning was impressive because it had reuired a great deal of patience and effort from everybody involved Mostly it had reuired honesty even if those moments of candor were occasionally unpleasant”Local customs make regular appearances Apparently drinking is a competitive activity in China “One of the many good things about small Chinese restaurants was that they never cleared the bottles until you left which meant that passersby could glance over and see how much damage you had done by two in the afternoon” Read about the 50 hour train adventure traveling from northwestern China back to Fuling one vacation Read about religion in China Find out why Peter had a Chinese name of Ho Wei and his students went by English names in class Meet the 10 year old shoeshine girl Accompany Peter’s father on a 10 day visit And learn how his Chinese students deal with the emotions of his leaving after two years


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) ➳ [Reading] ➶ River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) By Peter Hessler ➩ – Capitalsoftworks.co.uk In the heart of Chia's Sichuan province lies the small city of Fuling Surrounded by the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley Fuling has long been a place of continuity far from the bustling poli In the heart of Chia's Sichuan province Two Years Epub ß lies the small River Town: PDF/EPUB or city of Fuling Surrounded by the terraced hills of the Yangtze Town: Two Years eBook ✓ River valley Fuling has long been a place of continuity far Town: Two Years on the Epub / from the bustling political centers of Beijing and Shanghai But now Fuling is heading down a new path and gradually along with scores of other towns in this vast and ever evolving country it is becoming a place of change and vitality tension and reform disruption and growth As the people of Fuling hold on to the China they know they are also opening up and struggling to adapt to a world in which their fate is uncertainFuling's position at the crossroads came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer in marking the first time in than half a century that the city had an American resident He found himself teaching English and American literature at the local college discovering how Shakespeare and other classics look when seen through the eyes of students who have been raised in the Sichuan countryside and educated in Communist Party doctrine His students though are the ones who taught him about the ways of Fuling and about the complex process of understanding that takes place when one is immersed in a radically different societyAs he learns the language and comes to know the people Hessler begins to see that it is indeed a uniue moment for Fuling In its past is Communist China's troubled history the struggles of land reform the decades of misguided economic policies and the unthinkable damage of Town: Two Years on the Epub / the Cultural Revolution and in the future is the Three Gorges Dam which upon completion will partly flood thecity and force the resettlement of than a million people Making his way in the city and traveling by boat and train throughout Sichuan province and beyond Hessler offers vivid descriptions of the people he meets from priests to prostitutes and peasants to professors and gives voice to their views This is both an intimate personal story of his life in Fuling and a colorful beautifully written account of the surrounding landscape and its history Imaginative poignant funny and utterly compelling River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that much like China itself is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be.

  • Paperback
  • 402 pages
  • River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.)
  • Peter Hessler
  • English
  • 02 June 2016
  • 9780060953744

About the Author: Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at Two Years Epub ß The New Yorker River Town: PDF/EPUB or where he served as Beijing correspondent from and is Town: Two Years eBook ✓ also a contributing writer for National Geographic He is the author Town: Two Years on the Epub / of River Town which won the Kiriyama Book Prize and Oracle Bones which was a finalist for the National Book Award He won the National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting.


10 thoughts on “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.)

  1. Shovelmonkey1 Shovelmonkey1 says:

    China is bafflingly massive And that is a bonafide geographical fact people You can get one of those old fashioned things called a map and have a look See I am not wrong Not only is it massive but the PRC is also the most populous country in the world with a population of over 13 billion How do you even go about counting that many people How do you get them all to stand still for long enoughPeter Hessler author of River Town Two Years on the Yangtze went to China not to check population statistics but to immerse himself in the culture and physical geography of a place which still seems mysterious to a large portion of the world beyond China's borders The result is a book which carefully documents Hessler's time and experiences living in the river town of Fuling on the banks of the Yangtze Hessler is an engaging writer but from the outset I found myself wondering why I should care about two years in the life of an American Peace Corps volunteer probably in much the same way that people might wonder why they should care about my opinions of this or any other book Why indeedHessler presents the day to day minutiae of life on the Yangtze in a way which retains its personal element but also references the wider historical and cultural aspects which have moulded the lives of the residents of River Town Fuling Part travelogue part diary part Cliff notes to China's long and varied history this book is a strong introduction to a culture which some may regard is largely impenetrable After all so many books have been written on China it is difficult to know where to start Most interesting of all is the way in which Hessler and his friends gradually infiltrated the local traditions and way of life It took time and patience but a polite determination to learn the language and self depreciating humour allowed him a view point that few other short term visitors would getDespite this book being a chance find it is one that I'm glad to have read and I'm keen to learn about China Hessler has recently moved to the Middle East as a foreign correspondent and I look forward to seeing what his output from Cairo might be

  2. Donna Donna says:

    I read this for my book club and it was unexpectedly difficult for me to get through it I'm not completely sure why that is since the author's true life experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1996 1998 in Fuling a remote Chinese village were interesting and well written But it was also repetitive and with too many details piled one on top of another making for dense reading that slowed the book down That and my incredulous reaction to some of Hessler's negative impressions of the Chinese people and their culture which had me stopping and thinking times than I could count He had me shaking my head when he would grow frustrated by his students bowing their heads at their desks from something he said that offended them or made them uncomfortable This truly frustrated me as did the altercations he became involved in when living there much as I tried seeing things from his point of view But this was than an account of Peter Hessler educating future teachers in China about the subjects of English literature and culture It was a progression of him learning much himself and much about himself during that time When he first arrived in Fuling with another volunteer who would become a good friend Peter was a bit naive and had dreams of making a favorable impression on the Chinese people he encountered since this was the first time in fifty years than any Americans had been allowed to live in that remote area with its population of 200000 He also wanted people mainly his students to be aware of their own oppression in comparison to living as an American He wanted them to rally against the rules and seek freedom by thinking freely instead of swallowing propaganda whole This really surprised me as I thought his main objective besides teaching should be the sharing of cultural differences to form a bridge of acceptance and not a gulf of disparity Fortunately as both an observer and participant he learned many lessons along the way outside of those taught formally by his tutors when he was learning the language in that region He came to understand that not everyone has the luxury of deciding what their lives will be like or have any power to change things or even wish to This was a very candid look at Hessler's slow going transformation in understanding culture differences and perceptions within their context While he saw the land being changed by the people to make use of it for agricultural purposes he learned the people saw themselves changed by the land such as their beauty or temperament being influenced by living near the mountains and or by being closer to the water And then there were lessons like this that he learned later on from assignments his students turned in Each generation has its own happiness and sadness To younger generation the important thing is understanding instead of criticizing Our elder generation was unlucky; they didn't own a good chance and circumstances to realize their value But their spirit their love to our country set a good example for usThis was the best part of this book the personal stories and ideas his students shared with him and him coming to know a good handful of people whom he would be able to call friends by the end of his two years there And the village itself with its constant noise and pollution and with Hessler fighting illness for two years it was satisfying to learn that it became something like home to him eventually and not something to fight against as he had fought against a number of people who taunted him for being an outsider It became a place rather beautiful to him such as this poetic passage he wrote indicates when celebrating the Chinese New Year At the stroke of midnight the entire city gathered itself and roared its voice reverberating back and forth across the Wu the windows of the buildings flickering in reflections of sparks and bursts of fire The old year died; evil spirits fled; deep in the valley's heart the Wu trembled its water colored by the bright shadow of the blazing city And finally midnight passed and the fireworks faded and we were left with a new year as empty and mysterious as the river that flowed silently through the valleyThis book should make for an interesting book club discussion of both Fuling and its residents during that time and of the author who spent two years in his late twenties growing up there

  3. Ensiform Ensiform says:

    A volunteer for the Peace Corps Hessler lived in Fuling a little town in Sichuan province on the delta of the Yangtze and Wu rivers for two years teaching English As one of the few Westerners in the town since World War II Hessler becomes the focus of not always kind attention in town but as he learns Chinese and of the Chinese way of doing things he sees his place clearly and almost at times seems to fit into the daily life there Of course nearly everything in China is political the literature he teaches is used by his students as a springboard to analyze their own lives even as Hessler learns how hard it is to broach certain subjects in a culture where everyone is brought up to believe the same thingsWritten in calm meditative prose this is an excellent entry into the annals of the Westerner in China body of memoirs Hessler is wise beyond his years and his China or rather his Fuling is never of the sadly typical “oh look how foreign everything is” variety He recognizes full well how foreign he himself is and even during his lowest points of cultural contact – when men try to pick fights with him simply because he’s a Westerner – he reports with a detached and reflective eye He learns rather uickly how to deal with some of the illogical bureaucracy – I enjoyed his clever face saving solution when confronted with the lie that he was reuired to get a chest X ray to participate in a foot race for example – but he is troubled and bemused by certain other aspects of Chinese culture He cites the lack of empathy and collectivist thinking that he saw in Chinese crowds and the disturbing lack of fixed individual values in a culture where “wrong” thinking can become “right” as easily as it takes for an authority to say it In his own small circle of students and friends he hears of two deaths a suicide and a kidnapping of a woman to become a forced bride Near the end of the book he muses that he can only brush against “the slightest sense of the dizzying past” that informed the values and behaviors that he encounters His Fuling is as he says “a human place” and that puts his memoir in the top ranks of its kind

  4. Chrissie Chrissie says:

    Interesting and well written but some sections could have been tightened The author spent two years 1996 1998 as a Peace Corp volunteer in Fuling China It is a remote town located in the Yangtze River Valley in the heartland of the Sichuan province He taught English he learned Chinese and through his own learning teaching talking and living with these people he comes to understand what it is to be Chinese His experience was one of total immersion What he learned he has shared with us and we don’t have to get sick as he did We don’t have to be ostracized as he was Two things make this book better than most such books by Peace Corps volunteers He really came to understand the people he lived with and his writing is better than most

  5. Rachel Rachel says:

    For those who think this book is incredibly dull I must say I don't think it was intended to be a work of entertainment It often reads like a personal journal which can be both charming and a chore If you're patient I think you'll find it reasonably pleasant to settle in and listen to Peter Hessler tell his story For those who say that Peter Hessler is a conceited jerk mmm I don't buy that He makes observations about how rude and petty many of the Chinese people are and he also freely admits to losing his temper and he feels remorse for instances when he treated other people cruelly While he clearly cares about being kind to others and being empathetic to the various sides he doesn't try to pretend that he's Mr Wonderful and Always Kind and Patient in Every Scenario Nope sometimes he is kind of a jerk as most of us sometimes are especially when we're stressed The fact that Hessler is able to admit to these things honestly and humbly is to his credit I think Now that we got that out of the way I think this is an excellent memoir After reading about all the struggles that Peter Hessler had trying to adjust to life in the polluted noisy filthy crowded town of Fuling and how hard he worked to learn the language and make a difference for his students I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat as I read the last couple of pages when Peter made his final departure from Fuling I liked learning about different aspects of recent Chinese history as the author brought up pieces here and there prompted by people and places in the story I also thought that the excerpts from the students' writing samples sprinkled throughout the narrative greatly added to the story Peter Hessler is from Missouri like me the Show Me State and I appreciated how he told it as he saw it often times being uite critical of the Chinese people he met Alas sometimes Hessler even seemed to be ridiculing the Chinese people which is a reason why I think some of the reviewers think he is an arrogant jerk Here is one example from pages 234 235 of my paperback 499 pages Perhaps the strangest part of the Chinese fascination with Hitler was that simultaneously they had a deep respect for the Jewish people Jews were the next best thing to Chinese they were an extremely intelligent race as one could tell from examples of Einstein and Marx Ideas of this sort were standard and completely predictable There were buttons you could push Hitler Jews the Japanese the Opium Wars Tibetans Taiwan and 90 percent of the time you could predict the precise reaction including specific phrases people would use It was natural enough given China's conditions; virtually everybody was the same race the country had been isolated for centuries and the current education system was strictly standardized and politically controlledAnd it was also natural that these conditions resulted in some particularly bizarre notions like the admiration of Hitler or the fascination with Thai transvestites It was interesting to figure out these common beliefs and occasionally you could work them to your advantage During the summer my sister Angela and Todd her Stanford colleague had been bored by eating meals with their Chinese interpreter so I gave them a list of subjects that would surely make things entertaining It seems Hessler is ridiculing the Chinese people for holding stupidly to stereotypes and not thinking for themselves I'm sure many people would be offended by this but you know what this is his memoir and the scorn that he felt was real I hope there's nothing wrong with him documenting that It just shows that he's not a saint and honestly did we expect him to be oneThere were also parts of the book that made me laugh out loud For example at the beginning of the book Peter Hessler kept seeing Communist propaganda messages together with the names of sponsors such as Magnificent Sound Cigarettes a private company so it's a bit ironic and one of the common phrases was Socialism with Chinese Characteristics Because of pressure from the Communist Party over what he could teach he had to modify his literature class to be what he jokingly called Shakespeare with Chinese Characteristics etc Eventually there is a faculty basketball tournament and the referee is biased against Peter and Adam the two Peace Corps volunteers not wanting the foreigners to win So Peter and Adam drop out of the tournament because of all the bad referee calls Afterward Peter was talking to his Mandarin tutor a very prim and proper Chinese lady Peter called the referee a bad egg and the tutor told Peter he was wrong to say that; he was dribbling wrong and was not playing basketball the Chinese way Peter was already exasperated with his tutor who had been very stern constantly correcting his Mandarin without ever giving him any positive feedback On page 74 he wrote She said it in hopes of ending the argument tactfully because she saw that I was annoyed But I had already heard too many explanations about 'the Chinese way' and I did not want to lectured about Basketball with Chinese Characteristics and so he exploded in an indignant rant to the teacher about how basketball is an American game that he knew uite well and he wasn't about to be lectured about playing it the Chinese way OK Basketball with Chinese Characteristics yes that's it that's what made me laugh out loud when it appeared on the page Hmm not funny now OK maybe you had to be there One thing I found very poignant in the book was how Peter and Adam found ways to teach the students by having them perform skits and other creative activities despite resistance from the Communist officials For example Peter had his students put on Dickens' A Christmas Carol as a play but the Communist leaders of the school would not allow him to teach the students Christmas carols even if they were secular ones p 336 No said Dean Fu still smiling tightly I'm afraid that we can have no songs about Christmas I'm sorry but you know it is not my decision I could have pointed out that even in the spring the campus propaganda speakers as part of the noon entertainment program often played a Muzak version of What Child is This But I knew the argument was hopeless; there was no logic to any of it And in the same spirit I instructed my classes to replace the Christmas carols with patriotic Communist songs which is anything improved Dickens My favorite scene was when a furious Scrooge swung his cane at a band of merry carolers who were belting out The East is Red singing the praises of Mao Zedong while the old man shouted HumbugToward the end of the book they have a school play where Cervantez' Don uixote is adapted for Chinese audiences In the students' version Don uixote is instead Lei Feng a famous Communist worker martyr and he offers Sancho Panza the island of Taiwan if he will join in on the adventure In another assignment Peter Hessler studies Shakespeare's Sonnet Eighteen Shall I compare thee to a summer's day etc with his students In this section Peter notes that his Chinese students were advanced at understanding the rhythm of poetry than their American counterparts p 42 Peter has the students write essays to describe the woman in Shakespeare's poem Many of the students' responses are very similar writing in English but using classical Chinese cliches to describe a woman's beauty such as comparing her fingers to scallions or to the roots of an onion comparing her hair to a waterfall and comparing her eyebrows to the leaves of a willowAnother excellent assignment was when Peter assigned the class to study Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle pp 170 171 The students performed skits; one group acted out a Chinese Rip Van Winkle who had fallen asleep in 1930 and woken up in 1950 another group did a Rip who had fallen asleep in 1948 and woken up in 1968 and so on He had seven groups each highlighting a different piece of recent Chinese history Given all the changes that have happened in China over the past 100 years I thought this was brilliantAnother thing I found interesting was the reaction of the locals to the building of the Three Gorges Dam back then the dam was under construction Although the people were living in these centuries old villages for the most part they didn't seem concerned about losing the old towns The old towns were dirty and crowded and the people wanted to move somewhere new Peter says that there was strong opposition to the project from academics and intellectuals p105 But there were always voices of dissent Even in the 1980s as Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng moved closer to beginning actual work on the dam it was one of the few major issues in China that could be debated publicly Criticism was accepted and there was no shortage of it; many experts believed that constructing a series of smaller dams on the Yangtze and its tributaries would have many of the same benefits without the risks The debates continued until finally in 1987 the government tired of this version of democracy and silenced it If China's leaders wanted the largest dam in the world it would be built regardless of the risks None of the difficulties mattered the silt the earthuakes the lost relics the extinct species the displaced peasants The experts could be ignored just as they had been ignored so many times in the past; when Mao encouraged high birth rates in the 1950s and 1960s; when the Great Leap Forward was launched; when the Cultural Revolution began Sometimes you need decision rather than debate There's no sense in giving up eating for fear of chokingNow this last sentence ties in to an earlier theme in the chapter Mr Hessler had used an essay on the Three Gorges Dam provided by the Chinese textbook as a model of a persuasive essay The essay gave a standard essay format beginning with points in opposition to the dam Then as a transition before proceeding to the points in favor of the dam the essay used the phrase But we should not give up eating for fear of choking After that time to Mr Hessler's great dismay the students used that exact same phrase as a transition point any time they wrote an argumentative essay whether the subject was the pro's and cons of morning exercises or an analysis of Shakespeare's Hamlet p 100 I believe this phrase was an example of how much Mr Hessler hated the lack of independent thinking original ideas and follow the pack mentality that many of the students displayedA nice literary device I wanted to mention was how Peter Hessler spent a few pages pp 94 98 writing about the White Crane Ridge which was a rock or a small island about 240 feet long in the Yangtze river with thousands of years of inscriptions on it Mostly the inscriptions noted the date and the level of the water and some of them had predictions about next year's harvest etc There was also a famous carving of twin carp from the Tang Dynasty The next chapter is a detailed story about the Three Gorges Dam you continuing reading on this new topic and then just when you've nearly forgotten about the White Crane Ridge he mentions how the Three Gorges Dam will affect the town of Fuling p 101 and among other things he says the new reservoir will be than 130 feet above the Tang Dynasty twin carpI thought that was a very nice literary touch as he got us all excited about the White Crane Ridge and how nice it must be to visit it and a few pages later we learn that it would soon be lost forever On page 106 Hessler mentions that archeologists were proposing ways to preserve these cultural relics In response Hessler writes p 106 All of these plans and complaints greatly annoyed the forces that were pushing the dam forward Wei Tingcheng the seventy year old chief engineer who spent virtually his entire professional life developing the project scoffed at the palaces that archeologists were proposing To tell you the truth he said in a 1996 interview with the New York Times the common people of China have such a low education level that they will not be able to enjoy these cultural relics and only some of these experts will go to these museums It wasn't a particularly tactful remark but in some ways it addressed an important issue a country like China is accustomed to making difficult choices that Americans might not dream of considering I thought of this every time I visited the White Crane Ridge where I was always amazed to see the conjunction of the ancient carvings and the timeless river Nowhere else had I felt so strongly that there are two types of history nature's and man's and that one is a creature of cycles while the other with mixed results aims always at straightness progress development control And on the Yangtze I sensed that it was a particularly dangerous violation to force these together pressing the river's cycles into stagnancy behind the long line of the dam But this was a poetic turn of thought and most people in Fuling couldn't afford it They didn't have the time or interest to visit the White Crane Ridge and they didn't worry much about the relationship between man and nature Often there were no other tourists on the ridge besides me and the only time I ever saw a big crowd was the day I researched my story about the carvings which was on on a weekend during the Spring Holiday Festival in 1998 Even educated people often weren't interested If you wanted to see local history it wasn't necessary to go to the hassle of taking a boat you could wander into the countryside and stumble upon ing dynasty tombs without even searchingThere is a lot to this book and for once I don't think it was too long I usually complain about how books should have been edited way down But this time I think all the pieces presented in this 400 page diary were important in describing Peter Hessler's two years in western China I like the way some of the chapters are simply memories which stand on their own and don't lead to anything else like in real life Meanwhile other chapters do relate to the others and help to propel the narrator forward I think I'd like to give this either 3 stars or 4 stars I would give it 5 stars for technical mastery and completeness If I were grading this for a class certainly it would be an A maybe even an A depending on what the other students turned in But as far as as my personal enjoyment of the book I need to bring it down to 3 or 4 stars This is partly because the book can be a bit dull at times but mostly it's because it's rather depressing to read how close minded many of the Chinese people are and how poor the cities are and how many people there are living in those conditions Most of the time the book doesn't evoke much sympathy other than pity possibly for the people and it certainly reinforces a lot of negative stereotypes about the Chinese But I don't want to criticize the book for this; it was simply the narrator's experience and that is valid and I do appreciate Peter Hessler's honesty Nonetheless so many negative words about the Chinese people and the narrators' constant battles with corruption and small mindedness tended to wear me down after awhile All of this made me weary of this book just as I'm sure the narrator became weary of life in Fuling One saving grace was that Peter was able to understand people better once he was able to talk to people and the students especially in their own language He found that much of the formality and lack of humor sometimes perceived as rudeness slipped away when the people were able to speak in their native tongue The students spoke candidly about their feelings about the government etc when able to converse in their native language; on top of that Peter Hessler could see of their playful joking sides which is so important for pleasant person to person interactions This may speak to the importance of foreign language instruction here in the United States Perhaps listening as someone discusses his or her country's problems in his or her own language can relieve tension and make people feel at ease If Peter Hessler's observations are transferable it sounds like it might be a good idea to put emphasis on learning foreign languages here in the US I believe this may be a much better way of promoting peace and understanding in the world as opposed to advanced weaponry and nuclear arms races etc

  6. Anna Anna says:

    this was the one of MANY peace corps memoirs i suffered through reading material choices were limited to our paltry communal bookshelves in the volunteer lounge of the swaziland peace corps office anyway i used to write a monthly literature review box or our volunteer newsletter and one month i ranted about this genre below are my thoughts Dissecting the Peace Corps Memoir One of my least favorite genres of nonfiction is hands down the “peace corps memoir” I attribute it to both the fact that I am a volunteer myself and thus critical of the actual content And then probably due to the sheer volume that I read I’m picky about writing appreciating only good prose More often then not I feel like returned volunteers have good stories to tell and get book contracts for these stories without actually possessing the literary training or raw talent to pull them off Even the most talented editors couldn’t fix these calamities Just to prove that it doesn’t matter how bad of a writer you are as long as your granddaddy is famous you can get a book deal Jason Carter’s Power Lines is an embarrassment to his Duke education Stylistically his sentences and paragraphs fall flat lacking cohesion And grammatically he leaves the reader reaching for her copy of Strunk White The award for most frustrating goes to Susana Herrera whose Mango Elephants in the Sun made me want to jab blunt objects into my eye sockets as I waded through nonsensical odes to lizards and out of place poems I couldn’t tell if she wanted the reader to feel sorry for her or be envious I suppose in the end it didn’t matter because I felt neither I found Sarah Erdman’s Nine Hills to Nambonkaha one of the newest in the genre to be nauseatingly pretentious and self congratulatory From a literary standpoint the lack of coherent theme or message was disappointing As I’ve mentioned in a previous entry Geneva Sander’s The Gringo Brought His Mother is ridiculously absurd It’s a memoir written by a volunteer’s mother after a month long trip to visit her son The mother is completely nutty and paints a pathetic portrait of her son; then again whose mother actually writes a peace corps memoir Moritz Thomsen’s Living Poor was mind numbingly boring and topped only by Peter Hessler’s River Town Hessler’s was so dull that even Kelly training director couldn’t finish it And in the “who cares” category is Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery’s Dear Exile a collection of letters the two friends wrote back and forth during Montgomery’s service Liftin was stateside The reader is treated to a nearly constant string of Montgomery’s complaints to her friend about rural village life in Kenya It’s very hard to muster up sympathy for her bouts of diarrhea when I and all the other volunteers in Swaziland still heroically troop to the pit latrine through thick and thin It’s not however a complete waste of a genre Two gems sparkle in the rough including Mike Tidwell’s The Ponds of Kalambayi Tidwell does not shy away from his own shortcomings and writes candidly of his own vices and addictions His clear and concise prose paints a vivid and enthralling picture of the fisheries program in Zaire And then there is George Parker’s The Village of Waiting The first memoir to take a critical look at post colonial class race and culture issues that surround the Peace Corps experience Not only is Parker’s writing heads above the best he’s a Pushcart Prize winning writer whose work has appeared in Harper’s Dissent and The New York Times he’s also brutally honest about his work as white western volunteer living in an African village acknowledging the inherent problems and paradoxesless

  7. Matthew Matthew says:

    Halfway through River Town I can't help but observe that Pete Hessler was just 27 when he arrived to teach English for the Peace Corp in Fuling the town on which his memoirtravelogue is based My favourite books are like this I can't help but see blurred reflections of myself in them I wish I'd read Hessler before I went to China for exchange in 2002 but I try to forgive myself the immaturity at that stage; after all I was just 21 then It seems so old though 21 after NS and compared to how adult 21 year olds seem when you read about them in books about developing countries 27 year old Hessler seems so intelligent about travel so able to observe the surroundings and people and himself at the same time perhaps a function of his literatureanthropology background at Princeton I turn 27 in just over a month and River Town makes me wonder about whether I'm as mature a reporter as he is I'm no longer a reporter to be sure but I think of it less as a profession than as a way of being a mode of living of openness at a personal level and of penetrating different niches of experience and observing and thinking through them eventually perhaps writing about themIn any case here's a comment he makes deep into the book which I think is so uintessentially journalistic He's describing how he tried to use English to broach sensitive political topics with his students when he first arrived and failed but later as he picked up Chinese managed to do soAt last I realised that the fear wasn't of somebody else hearing It was a uestion of comfort because uncertain topics were easily handled in their native language But also I sensed that the true fear was of themselves virtually all the limits had been established in their own minds English had been learnt at school and thus is was indistinguishable from the educational system and its political regulations it was a school language a waiguoren language and in both contexts they had been trained to think and speak carefullyMore immediate than a historian would write and observational than a fiction writer would dictate I thinkAnd elsewhere later just because I like this observation and not because its espescially poetic or anything Of his students he writes They were tough and sweet and funny and sad and people like that would always survive I wonder about thatOn the whole though I'd say Oracle Bones his second book based on his later years in China as a freelance feature writer and New Yorker correspondent is better written He's perfected the feature magazine pace by then the break in tone and subject the circling back to subjects the timed release of detail vital to the story like blood from a drip River Town is straightforward less polished his descriptions ramble but in that sense its also poetic a scene ends and you're not sure what the point is because there is no point its perhaps simply the writing down of a memory and there is in that than can be summarised into a point

  8. Hallie Taylor Hallie Taylor says:

    Since writing this book Peter Hessler has established himself as one of the premier journalists writing about life in China today You'll find his pieces in the New Yorker and the Atlantic River Town is well worth reading It is an introspective memoir of his first two years of living in somewhat rural China and is also very well written I met two of Peter Hessler's Peace Corps comrades in 1996 or 1997 in Xishuangbanna I remember them telling me about their experiences and frustrations working in rural Sichuan I guess it was during spring festival time so that would be early 1997 Having lived in Sichuan during the mid to late 80's with my family I was very familiar with the region and I loved talking to these guys Hessler's accounts of his experiences rang very true to me and it is enjoyable to see what he learns about the people around him during his time in Fuling All in all I'm a little biased because I loved reading this book because it is about Sichuan a place that is both familiar and well loved by me You may particularly enjoy this if you have some experience and interest in China but it's all around a great book

  9. Ryan Louis Ryan Louis says:

    David Sedaris told me to read this book So I didAt a public reading Sedaris made a recommendation for what he called someone who can actually write Oh David SedarisI've read Hessler's New Yorker articles and love them So it didn't come as much surprise that this ended up being good The funny thing though is that even though I was familiar with and appreciated the author I started the book seriously skeptical I'm not super patriotic or anything if I'm anything super it would be super libs but I do find myself buying into the punditry and its usually negative rhetoric regarding ChinaAs I started River Town I was uite resistant to the point where reaching actual empathy felt as probable as me going to the moonOh how happy I am to come down off my pedestal This richly rewarding novel is full of beautiful passages It's not uite coming of age because the main character is 27 But it's one of those coming into their own memoirs And conseuently because the author's journey was so manifestly transformative I found MY journey to be as wellBasically the memoir follows Mr Hessler through his Peace Corps experiences in a small ish town in Sichuan Province Fuling during the Clinton Era As he negotiates cultural boundaries he gets hit albeit slowly by a concatenation of revelations interpersonal intercultural all humanizing In our current Geopolitical Battle Royale or as I'm being led to see things these days an International Hunger Games I forget that the most manipulating thing about politics is that it makes us forget the real people subject to neolithic systems like autocratic regimesBooks out about why we should FEAR China make the best seller list and regretfully alienate readers enough to avoid finding common groundBut after this book I find myself using engaging examples about China in all my classes I feel empathic at once and yet feel objective enough to freely criticize I know I'm only one book in but it's revelatory to consider both sides of the China coin one that is not entirely Western or Chinese To demand change from a country with traditions stretching back millennia undermines the value of culture; to ignore the objectionable human rights abuses eually undermining Hessler finds a middle ground One that I hope provides insight for a way forward together

  10. Larry Bassett Larry Bassett says:

    I read this in the book format a considerable time ago I am now going to listen to it in the audible format along with the Kindle version I remember enjoying the several books by this author about China in the past My interest was prompted by our adoption of a 3 12 year old girl from China She is now nearly 18 years old and we have a short lifetime of history with her——————— Sorry this is too long I’ll try not to do it againYou do need to remember that these events happened 14 years ago in a country that is changing incredibly uickly Fuling is no longer an isolated city; it is accessible by train expressway and boatIf you want to know about China – and who doesn’t – read this book Me I have the second Peter Hessler book published in 2006 to read Oracle Bones A Journey Between China’s Past and Present August 18 2003 issue of Time Asia with an update by Peter Hessler about Fulinghttpwwwtimecomtimeasia2003joAnd even this is seven years agoRiver Town is like a movie made with a hand held camera occasionally jumpy but some great close up shots Hessler takes you through two years 1996 97of living in a small Chinese city 200000 in Sichuan provinceThe writing style of the book is casual and collouial complete with hell and damn with an occasional travelogue feel Hessler shows a wide screen view but then shifts down to personal details in which he was a participant You go into the homes and businesses of the city with him as well as going along on some interesting adventures He presents an honest account of his experiences along with a good deal of information about the 20th century history of life in China He finds the city dirty from coal dust and noisy from car horns Humorously he relates the number of honksminute from an actual count of their cab driver in a 15 minute trip Could it be 37 Set against this oasis of noise and grit “the mountains are green and impressive” There are no bicycles due to the steepness of the mountainous area There are numerous steps with some businesses actually on small terraces next to the steps And there are porters who earn a living carting things up and down the steps Manual labor is the norm for everything in the book I can’t think of anything other than the cars that were mechanized Of course there are the cell phones and beepers Actually not that many since this is a very poor area One restaurant owner is mentioned as having a fake beeper on his belt for showSometimes Hessler can overdo it “There are stunned bushes and exhausted flowers and broken hearted patches of grass” You might call it sappy or flowery but I mostly liked his turn of a phrase Peter and Adam teach English and English literature at a teacher’s college Their students are almost uniformly coming from a peasant background Hessler shares uite a few things written by his students They are informative and many are poignant; he uses this material to buttress his arguments He writes a little like an English Major and I should know since I am one With the help of tutors flash cards repetition and immersion in the city he spoke well in Chinese by the end of the first year and was using Chinese as his primary language for many of his remaining months He considered himself as two people the one who spoke English and the one who spoke Chinese Because of his fluency in Chinese he was able to develop many kinds of relationships with people who lived there He found that people are different when you can talk with them in their own language He learns the local dialect and becomes a common sight in many places in the city He also learned to read written Chinese not bad for a boy from Missouri Hessler takes us on an anthropological adventure deep into another culture with his writing We go to the Three Gorges Dam project that will put eventually flood the valley for hundreds of miles and force many people to relocate and he talks directly with the people affected There are signs throughout the valley marking where the water will eventually reach People go about their daily lives around the signs Would you call River Town a valid ualitative sociological study He doesn’t suggest any methodology other than talking with people observing and living with the people for two years He does have some statistics scattered throughout But he is predominantly subjective as he is living his study He lives in a relatively elite apartment building on campus Maybe he is one of those ivory tower academics living in his little protected territory Hessler has written two substantial books about life in China since this book Some people including some who have lived in China have challenged his conclusions I believe himPolitics is throughout the book Hessler is clearly not objective about the politics that he deals with in his daily work as a teacher and off campus Is he anti communist He is opposed to how communism happens in the China that he lives in He says “In some ways this is what I had grown to loathe the most about communism I could almost bear the falseness and the lies but I could not forgive its complete absence of humor China was a grim place once you took the laughter away” But he did give a variety of views and interpretations of how communism works in China I wonder what the administrators at the Chinese college thought when this book first appeared in 2001 Communism with Chinese Characteristics and democracy come up freuently as Hessler attempts to encourage his students who have primarily learned by rote to do some independent thinking The book certainly suggests that he had some success His description of the path that took is well written and informative It is a 400 page book so lots of things happen You will have to read the book to see how one class skit moves from a study of Rip Van Winkle to a skit about the Cultural Revolution Hessler makes a good argument for language skill in diplomats so that negotiations do not have to be passed through interpreters And he does not mean that everyone should learn to speak English With his students “uncertain topics were easily handled in their native language” Overcoming “cultural barriers that had made things so difficult in the beginning was impressive because it had reuired a great deal of patience and effort from everybody involved Mostly it had reuired honesty even if those moments of candor were occasionally unpleasant”Local customs make regular appearances Apparently drinking is a competitive activity in China “One of the many good things about small Chinese restaurants was that they never cleared the bottles until you left which meant that passersby could glance over and see how much damage you had done by two in the afternoon” Read about the 50 hour train adventure traveling from northwestern China back to Fuling one vacation Read about religion in China Find out why Peter had a Chinese name of Ho Wei and his students went by English names in class Meet the 10 year old shoeshine girl Accompany Peter’s father on a 10 day visit And learn how his Chinese students deal with the emotions of his leaving after two years

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *