Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) Goes Home

In the current issue of The New Yorker (March 9, 2015) there is an absolutely wonderful and long piece by Peter Hessler on his return to China for a book tour last September. It is entitled “Travels With My Censor” and focuses on changing censorship in-country, but this piece really is much more than that.peter-hessler1

Peter spent a total of 11 years in China, first as a college teacher in Fuling, later as a journalist, and then later still to research and write his three books on China. Today, Peter and his family live in Cairo and he is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His latest book is Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West.

rivertown-100His Peace Corps memoir, and first book, is entitled River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. Read it. The book is one of the best memoirs of the Peace Corps experience to come out of our community.

This “Letter From Beijing” article in the current New Yorker touches on Fuling and the changes there with the town and college. Peter, of course, goes back to his site. His first trip to Fuling was by boat, and Peter opens his memoir with an evocative paragraph of arriving in Fuling. Two years later he left Fuling also by boat on the Yangtze, reversing  his opening paragraph.

This time, in this article, he writes, “We drove to Fuling on one of three new expressways that have been constructed since I left. There are also two new railways, including a high-speed line, and the college has relocated to a larger site, outside of town, as part of a national expansion of higher education that began in 1999. When I taught in Fuling, there were two thousand students; now there are more than twenty thousand.”

The focus of this article, as I mentioned, is on current censorship of writers, but also on the changes within China, how censorship works today, and how his books on China have been translated and received  in-country. Peter also tells us much of  what has happened in 11 years to his former colleagues and students.

This “Letter from Beijing” is laced with nostalgia as Peter looks back on his years living on the Yangtze. He reconnects and remembers who he was then and what China has become since.

Peter once remarked to me about China. “Whenever I go back, it is another country.”

In this ‘Letter” Peter shows us how and why.

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