The RPCV writers who served in China are now seeing their books published in China. Recently River Town (Peter Hessler 1996-98) book on his tour was published on the mainland. In less than a year, it has sold almost as many copies as it sold in the US since it came out in 2001.
According to Peter, “Chinese are eager readers of foreign works, and especially of literature, social science texts and academic collections. Translated books account for a huge slice of the market, and domestic writers often take inspiration from them. Maybe this is the fourth goal — bringing a Peace Corps view of the host country back to the host country.” The publisher is also bringing Peter back to China to tour — something that the US publisher has not done.
Published by Shanghai Translation Publishing House, River Town has 150,000 copies in print and is described to the Chinese audience this way:
Based on several hundred pages of diaries and notes, Peter Hessler has chronicled his observations and reflections to capture the realities of a certain brief period in Fuling, a city along the Yangtze River where the writer stayed as a volunteer teacher for two years. Hessler describes the place and its people “always full of life and energy and hope, which in the end is my subject”. It’s a best-seller in the US, and Chinese find it thought-provoking because it delves into a time in place few youth know about - or care to.
The same publisher will publish a Chinese edition of Michael Meyer’s (China 1995-97) The Last Days of Old Beijing this year, and Peter’s new book, Strange Stones:Dispatches from East and West (P.S.) that will be published in May in the U.S. is coming out in China next fall.
Craig Simons (China 1996-98) has a new book as well. The Devouring Dragon is about China’s environmental impact. It will be released in March. Simons works for the foreign service and is currently in the Chengdu consulate.
Journalist Rob Schmitz (China 1996-98) has been doing excellent work for Marketplace. Here’s a link to a series he has been doing about a neighborhood in Shanghai:: www.marketplace.org/topics/world/street-eternal-happiness.
So far, China RPCVs have published eight books about the country. At Peter writes, “Not bad for a program that started out small in 1994. But the timing was right and Volunteers were put in interesting places where they could learn the language quickly.”
What China RPCVs are proving again and again with their publications is that an unanticipated benefit of the Peace Corps is the books written by RPCVs based on their experiences, memoirs as well as academic studies and journalism. This is not only true of China RPCVs, but many other RPCVs who serviced countries around the world. The writers from the Peace Corps are the Peace Corps Volunteers who are truly making a lasting difference.