River TownTwo years on the Yangtze Peter Hessler 1996.9 – 1998.6 in Fuling, Sichuan By Haiyun Liu, 2011. 9.25
Peter Hessler 何伟 • American writer and journalist • Studied at Princeton University and the University of Oxford • The New Yorker staff writer in 2000 and served as foreign correspondent for the same publication until 2007 Joined the Peace Corps in 1996 and was sent to China for two years to teach English at a teachers college in Fuling, a small city near the Yangtze River in Sichuan Province (四川省涪陵镇）. He later worked in China as freelance writer for numerous publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the South China Morning Post, and National Geographic.
Oracle Bones 甲骨文 2006年出版 Country Driving 寻路中国 2010年出版 River Town 消失中的江城 2006年出版
Major Conflicts • Democracy “But many Americans think there are problems with human rights here. In fact, Old Hundred Names doesn’t care about that. Old Hundred Names worries about eating, about having enough clothes.” • Communism • Progress and modernization “But like most Chinese, the majority were but one generation removed from serious poverty. What I saw as freedom and culture, they saw as misery and ignorance.” • The view of individual “For people in Fuling, the sense of self seemed largely external; you were identified by the way that others viewed you.” “One of the most difficult things to do in class was to have a debate, because usually the students’ opinions were exactly the same.”
Culture Revolution • “Today we look back at the Cultural Revolution and say it’s so ridiculous, but perhaps in the future people will look back at today, and maybe they’ll say the same thing.” • “How could one person experience all of that, helpless from start to finish, and remain sane?” • That stack of envelopes was poignant enough—they had been preserved with such reverence that they were heavy with the intimation of a story that I knew could only be sad. And mostly it was clear that this brother in Taiwan had had a very different life than had Mr. Xu in Fengdu.
Events • 纪念红军长征 “All semester there were special events in the college to commemorate the anniversary of the march. The students took classes on the history of the Long March, they wrote essays about the Long March, and in December there was a Long March Singing Contest. ” • 修建三峡大坝 “But even with all of this history in mind, I still found the lack of interest and concern about the dam to be remarkable.” • 香港回归 “Ariel’s eyes were heavy with fatigue, and she told me that she had tried to go back to the dormitory but the doors were locked. Nobody was allowed to go to sleep until Hong Kong returned.” • 春节“There was a great deal of generosity in their having me over for dinner. They had known that the child would cry and possibly offend me, but they had invited me anyway.”
Places • 涪陵 “There are no bicycle in Fuling. Otherwise it is similar to any other small Chinese city—loud, busy, dirty, crowded; the traffic twisted, the pedestrians jostling each other….” • 陕西省：延安，榆林 “The countryside in this part of northern China was forbidding and deso- late, but it was also eerily beautiful.” • 新疆 “We reached Chengdu in early evening, and I realized that I had just spent two days of my life standing on a train.”
People • Students mostly from peasant family, bright and respect the teachers, have passion in poetry • Old hundred names (老百姓） “That was the best part of be- ing Old Hundred Names—they were never responsible for anything.” • Teacher Liao “she was the most Chinese person I ever came to know in Fuling” • Teacher Kong “Everybody needs some kind of faith,” says Kong Ming. “Whether it’s religion, or Capitalist Democracy, or Communism—regardless of what the faith is, everybody needs something. My faith is the Communist Party.”
Interesting Experiences • “and many of them wrote about my blue eyes. This was perhaps the strangest detail of all, because my eyes are hazel—but my students had read that foreigners had blue eyes, and they saw what they wanted to see.” • English names of the students -“Some were simply unfortunate: a very small boy called Pen, a very pretty girl named Coconut. One boy was called Daisy.” • Banquet - “Challenging each other to shot after shot of baijiu.” • This was another common assumption—that all waiguoren who studied Chinese knew each other, maintaining contact through an intricate nationwide system.
Author’s Notes • One of the best characteristics of the people I knew in Fuling was that they had a powerful pride in their own culture—I had never lived in a place where the people had such a strong sense of their unique cultural identity. • For the first time I realized the full importance of race, not just in the way it divided people, but also in the sense of feeling a link to those who looked like you. • the Chinese could be hard on foreigners, but at the same time they could be incredibly patient, generous, and curious about where you had come from