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River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze [Hardcover]

Peter Hessler
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Mar 2001

When Peter Hessler went to China in the late 1990s, he expected to spend a couple of peaceful years teaching English in the town of Fuling on the Yangtze River. But what he experienced -- the natural beauty, cultural tension, and complex process of understanding that takes place when one is thrust into a radically different society -- surpassed anything he could have imagined. Hessler observes firsthand how major events such as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam have affected even the people of a remote town like Fuling.

Poignant, thoughtful and utterly compelling, 'River Town' is an unforgettable portrait of a place caught mid-river in time, much like China itself -- a country seeking to understand both what it was and what it will one day become.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 412 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; First Edition edition (8 Mar 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719561566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719561566
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.3 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 720,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


I wish it were twice as long...I am not the only China-watcher who will wish they had written this book (Jonathan Mirsky)

Book Description

An account of Peter Hessler's time in the town of Fuling on the Yangtze River during the late Nineties. He observes the natural beauty, cultural tensions and how major events such as the return of Hong Kong to the mainland have affected the people of Fuling.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful picture of a meiguoren in China 18 Aug 2003
I came across this book while looking for other books on foreign experiences in China. This one is by far the most interesting and touching book of the lot. As an English-speaking student of Mandarin, I have considered applying for a post as a teacher of English as a foreign language in China, and this book helped me decide that, despite the many differences between China and the rest of the world, it would be a worthwhile experience. The author gives extermely well-crafted descriptions of not only his own experiences but of his travels within China and the scenery and people he meets. He illustrates his growing knowledge of Chinese by translating a sign he can see from his window--at first he can read only a few words but by the time he can read the entire sign we have been through quite a lot with him.
Anyone who wants to travel within China or spend a year or two teaching English there must read this book.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! 12 April 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a fantastic book. This, for me, was one of those rare books that you can't put down but don't want to end. Having just finnished it this morning I am already at a loss. I have read many books on China and this ranks among the best for me.

This is the story of Peter Hessler, an American student, who takes up an English teaching post in a remote town called Fuling where the River Wu meets the Yangtze. Fuling becomes his home for the next two years and here we are treated to a feast of Chinese life in a town where they are very unused to "waiguorn" (foreigners). We go through the many highs and lows with him and we meet a collection of fantastic characters along the way. To view this town and its people through waiguoren eyes is fascinating and a real eye opener.

Having been to China only once on holiday (to satisfy my enthusiasm) I am left feeling that spending all my time in Beijing and Shanaghai is abit of a cop out and I am now left with a real urge to travel deeper into this wonderful country and expore some more. This book has certainly given me a taste for that.

I highly recommend this book. I found it a real page turner. Enjoy.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
In his concluding remarks of River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler points us to the nub of his experience in China:
"I had never had any idealistic illusions about my Peace Corps 'service' in China; I wasn't there to save anybody or leave an indelible mark on the town. If anything, I was glad that during my two years in Fuling I hadn't built anything, or organized anything, or made any great changes to the place. I had been a teacher, and in my spare time I had tried to learn as much as possible about the city and its people. That was the extent of my work, and I was comfortable with those roles and I recognized their limitations."
In fall 1996, Peter Hessler, at the age of 26, took a Peace Corps assignment that relocated him to a small town in the Sichuan province of China. Many natives let alone a young American who made his inaugural entrance into the country did not know and hear of Fuling. It's a former coal-mining town that is bounded by the Yangtze and the Wu. Chongqing and the Three Gorges are just hours away by boats. The book chronicles, in a rather casual but detailed way, Peter's teaching experience at the Fuling Education College and his life and anecdotes in town. Interwoven into Peter's diary are descriptions of local landmarks and customs. This book is by far the most passionate and yet accurate and objective account written any foreigners. Peter really does possess a keen sense of his surroundings. Throughout his crisp, interesting prose and attention to details, the Chinese 'laobaixing' (common people) become alive as if we are actually interacting with them.
I am in awe of how far Peter has gone in making meticulous observations of the Chinese culture and its people. A lot of what he mentions in this book is often overlooked by foreigners.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great insight into being a Waiguoren in China 28 Jan 2003
As a foreigner with a wife from Shanghai who has spent some time in China, I found Peter Hessler's account of settling into a teacher training college in Fulling, a town on the Yangtse, full of insights into the Chinese character, society and cultural background and their interaction with westerners they meet. Particularly when there are only 2 westerners in town, from the American Peace Corps. Many incidents and events are described as their relationships with both college staff & students and townspeople develop and mature. The politics of their situation is always evident and often pointless restrictions are placed in their way but it is one of the delights of the book to read how they creatively circumvent these barriers to the great benefit of their students. The students love acting and the politically-incorrect plays that the 2 stage-manage are beautifully described.
There are many observations in this book that I have seen in other parts of their vast country. Such as the fondness for banquets and the drinking strategies that must be used to avoid complete intoxication (westerners are always targetted).
Then there is the struggle to learn the language, getting the tones wrong and inventing memory hooks for the impossible characters. Total empathy from me there. Co-incidentally he uses the same text book as that of my chinese class in Hillingdon, London. If it helped him become fluent there's hope for the rest of us.
From initially seeing Fulling as frightening, isolating and strange to feeling totally at home there after two years, there is always the unpredictable incident that comes as a shock reminder that you are still a Waiguoren. The author describes one nasty incident vividly.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good insight into China of 1990s
Interesting book about hinterland China of 1990s by young American teachers of Chinese students. However, although written by American, I find it gives an unbiased view of China of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. A. K-nichols
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book to introduce China
This is one of the best non-fiction books I have read. Beautifully Written with sympathy, understanding, variety and continual interest.
Published 3 months ago by Mora J Rolley
5.0 out of 5 stars Teaching in a Chinese College
Great introduction to understanding the Chinese way of life and customs as it was in the 1990's. Enjoyed his follow up The Oracle Bones too.
Published 3 months ago by Margot Harrison
4.0 out of 5 stars Yangtze River
Returned recently from a cruise on the Yangtze River. The book "River Town: ..." was recommended by one of the boat guides. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Susanna Toldi Bugge
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
I loved the description of living in China and the humor in his analysis of the different encounters. Excellent book! !
Published 8 months ago by Nikolaj Bo G. Larsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating study of life in a Chinese city
The author spent two years in Fuling, a city near the junction of the Wu River and the Yangtze (part of which has since been flooded by the Three Gorges Dam) as a Peace Corps... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Suzie Q
2.0 out of 5 stars Gave up.
I have read quite a few books on China and enjoyed them all, apart from this one. I gradually became more and more frustrated with the attitude of the author that I gave up in... Read more
Published 12 months ago by su-zette
4.0 out of 5 stars diary of an American in communist China
thoughtful reflective writing by an American Peace Corps volunteer teaching in China for two years; raises issues of culture clash and the process of learning how to feel at home... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Geoff Maughan
5.0 out of 5 stars Travelling to China with the author
This is a great book to get an almost first-hand impression of what it was like to be a foreigner in a small Chinese town in the 1990s. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Gineke
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written insight into China
Peter Hessler is an amazing writer. He perfectly captures life in remote China through tales of his teaching there. Read more
Published on 29 Oct 2011 by M Williams
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