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Oracle bones : a journey between China's past and present
Peter Hessler
Adult Nonfiction DS712 .H458 2006

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Hessler, who first wrote about China in his 2001 bestseller, River Town, a portrait of his Peace Corps years in Fuling, continues his conflicted affair with that complex country in a second book that reflects the maturity of time and experience. Having lived in China for a decade now, fluent in Mandarin and working as a correspondent in Beijing, Hessler displays impressive knowledge, research and personal encounters as he brings the country's peoples, foibles and history into sharp focus. He frames his narrative with short chapters about Chinese artifacts: the underground city being excavated at Anyang; the oracle bones of the title ("inscriptions on shell and bone" considered the earliest known writing in East Asia); and he pays particular attention to how language affects culture, often using Chinese characters and symbols to make a point. A talented writer and journalist, Hessler has courage-he's undercover at the Falun Gong demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and in the middle of anti-American protests in Nanjing after the Chinese embassy bombings in Belgrade-and a sense of humor (the Nanjing rioters attack a statue of Ronald McDonald since Nanjing has no embassies). The tales of his Fuling students' adventures in the new China's boom towns; the Uighur trader, an ethnic minority from China's western border, who gets asylum after entering the U.S. with jiade (false) documents; the oracle bones scholar Chen Mengjia, who committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution-all add a seductive element of human interest. There's little information available in China, we learn, but Hessler gets the stories that no one talks about and delivers them in a personal study that informs, entertains and mesmerizes. Everyone in the Western world should read this book. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Hessler has lived in China for the last nine years. He is deeply informed and writes with exceptional lucidity, choosing vivid, specific local topics whose broad significance he expertly shows. His memoir of his Peace Corps teaching experience, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, is a minor classic. His new book is a lovely take on a larger topic, the interaction of China with the West, told through craftily interwoven vignettes with cultural, political, and social resonance. In one series of vignettes, he follows former students from his Peace Corps days. Some are working in foreign-owned factories, while others are moving up the social ladder. In another series, he encapsulates the history of Chinese-American relations through the story of Chen Mengjia, China's leading scholar on the ancient oracle bones, which are over 3000 years old and revealed the earliest form of Chinese writing. Chen came to the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1940s, returned to China to be politically ostracized as a rightist, and was only recently rehabilitated, many years after his suicide. Along the way, Hessler introduces debates on the nature of the Chinese language and the scholars who have carried on the debate. Recommended for all libraries with medium or larger collections on China.-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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