CDT Bookshelf: Perry Link Recommends ‘River Town’

For the CDT Bookshelf, China Digital Times invites experts on China to recommend a book to CDT readers. This month, Perry Link, Professor of Chinese at Princeton University, recommends “River Town” by Peter Hessler, Harper Perennial 2002.

River TownLink writes: There are very few books about the daily life, feelings, and attitudes of ordinary Chinese people. Chinese writers see no need for such books, and Westerners are largely unable to write them because they don’t know enough. The glitz of Shanghai, or the pre-packaged language that emanates from Beijing, seduces Western observers and dominates their perceptions. (Chinese government statements about “the Chinese people” are not aimed to convey a true picture of lives, feelings, and attitudes; they say what the leaders, for their own political purposes, want the outside world to believe on these topics.) In sum, it is an odd fact, but undeniably true, that the outside world understands extremely little about the daily lives of about a billion of our fellow denizens of earth.

I know of no book in English that gets the reader “into China” of the last few decades better than ’s River Town. Hessler taught English for two years in
a small city in Sichuan, off the beaten path. He is an astute observer and a delightful writer. His characters come to life, and he has amazing skill in depicting attitude and atmosphere. Best of all, his descriptions ring exactly true. You can rely on them. Hessler was only a few years out of college when he went to Sichuan, but very few professional Sinologists can give as sensitive and authentic picture of Chinese daily life.

See also:

-“Changing Course,” an article by Hessler in Time Magazine written during a trip back to Fuling in 2003.

-Listen to an interview with Hessler on the public radio program Savvy Traveler.

-“Car Town,” a recent article in the New Yorker by Hessler.

A list of articles by published in the New York Review of Books.

October 20, 2005 1:33 PM
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