I’m a new Peter Hessler fan. Hessler was born and raised in the United States, and as a young man he joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in China where he taught English. He stayed for 15 years, working as a freelance reporter for The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and numerous other publications.
His fascination and adoration of the Chinese people and culture is evident throughout his writing. I listened to Strange Stones, one of the four books that he wrote about China. I chose this book in January in honor of the Chinese New Year which is on January 25 – Happy New Year to my Chinese co-workers!
Hessler befriended many during his years in China – factory workers, cooks, artists, farmers, and merchants – so that he could tell the story of ordinary Chinese people. Of course, China is a vast and diverse country, so one book cannot tell you all that there is to know, but still, there are plenty of interesting nuggets. You will hear about the importance of building relationships by face to face communications, the diversity of Chinese traditional foods, and how thriftiness has resulted in a focus on reusing and recycling materials.
His stories also weave in fun snippets of information, like the art of honking a car horn in China – including the single, double, long, stuttering, staggering, after-thought, and short honks – all of which have different meanings, according to Hessler. I have visited both Shanghai and Hong Kong, and I can attest that there is a lot of honking!
Hessler was particularly impressed by the Chinese people’s abilities to learn, innovate, and grow, resulting in their economy expanding at rates “never before seen in the developing world.” As to their history, Hessler reminds readers that the Chinese people made significant contributions to the world including inventing the compass, silk, paper, gunpowder, and seismoscope.
Hessler found many cultural similarities between the Chinese and Americans. “There was the same boundless optimism and energy. Both the Americans and the Chinese built wide roads across instant cities. They often had the quality of an upstart, and they believed that they could defeat time. In China, that characteristic sometimes seemed more American than the Americans.”
If you would like to learn more about China, then I recommend Strange Stones. I listened to the audio version. It was not read by the author (which is my preference), but it was very well done. Hessler’s humor is a bit dry, and I think that listening, as opposed to reading, would make for a more enjoyable book.
Happy New Year China! Stay safe and enjoy your friends and family during your holiday season.
Have you read any book about China, and if so, what did you learn?
How is the Chinese culture similar and different from your own culture?
What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?