River Town by Peter Hessler

In China, the year 1997 was marked by the death of Deng Xiaoping, the country’s leader for two decades, and the return of Hong Kong from British rule. Peter Hessler (http://www.peterhessler.net/) spent two years teaching English literature in a small town on the Yangtze, and observed Chinese political life first hand. He is able to present the detail of how political events affect the lives of ordinary people. The passing of Deng, for example, provokes thoughtful and unexpected essays from his students. The departure of the British from Hong Kong sparks a conversational ‘Opium War’ between him and his nationalist Chinese tutor. Meanwhile, ‘Ho Wei’, as Hessler is known to most of the townspeople, adopts a friendly and unsophisticated persona that allows him to learn the language and culture of his surroundings even as Hessler’s Western self remains estranged. ‘Ho Wei’ is more than a literary device. To live in China, Hessler felt compelled to subjugate his real identity to a character role.

As Hessler makes his way in the town of Fuling and travelling by boat and train throughout Sichuan province he offers vivid descriptions of the people he meets. There are priests, prostitutes, peasants, and professors. This is both an intimate personal story of his life in Fuling and a colourful, beautifully written account of the surrounding landscape and its history.  It is imaginative, poignant, funny, and  compelling. River Town is a portrait of a city that, much like China itself, is poised between ancient traditions, Communist ideology and a hyper-modern future.

Check if this excellent portrait of China is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at https://www.sllclibrary.co.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/MSGTRN/OPAC/BSEARCH

432 pages in Harper Collins

First published 2001

ISBN  978-0060195441

Peter Hessler

Scroll to Top