Peter Hessler’s new book | OTHER RIVERS: A CHINESE EDUCATION


An intimate and revelatory account of two generations of students in China’s heartland, by an author who has observed the country’s tumultuous changes over the past quarter century

More than two decades after teaching English during the early part of China’s economic boom, Peter Hessler, an experience chronicler in his book River Town, returned to Sichuan Province to instruct students from the next generation.

At the same time, Hessler and his wife enrolled their twin daughters in a local state-run elementary school, where they were the only Westerners.

Over the years, Hessler had kept in close contact with many of the people he had taught in the 1990s, and by reconnecting with these individuals —members of China’s “Reform generation,” who were now in their forties — were teaching current undergrads,  and Hessler gained from them a unique perspective on China’s incredible transformation.

Peter Hessler (China 1996-98)

In 1996, when Hessler arrived in China, almost all of the people in his classroom were first-generation college students. They typically came from large rural families, and their parents — subsistence farmers —  could offer little guidance as their children entered a brand-new world.

By 2019, when Hessler arrived at Sichuan University, he found a very different China, as well as a new kind of student — an only-child whose schooling was the object of intense focus from a much more ambitious cohort of parents. At Sichuan University, many young people had a sense of irony about the regime, but mostly navigated its restrictions with equanimity, embracing the opportunities of China’s rise. But the pressures of extreme competition at that scale can be grueling, even for much younger children — including Hessler’s own daughters, who gave him an intimate view into the experience at their local school.

In Peter Hessler’s hands, China’s education system is the perfect vehicle for examining the country’s past, present, and future, and what we can learn from it, for good and ill.

At a time when anti-Chinese rhetoric in America has grown blunt and ugly, Other Rivers is a tremendous, essential gift, a work of enormous empathy that rejects cheap stereotypes and shows us China from the inside out and the bottom up. As both a window onto China, and a mirror onto America, Other Rivers is a classic from a master of the form.


The current issue of The New Yorker (April 8, 2024) has a long article by Peter entitled “Opportunity Cost” that tells how Chinese students experience America based on his experience teaching a composition class at Sichuan University in southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.

Other Rivers
by Peter Hessler (China 1996-98)
Penguin Press
July 2024
$16.99 (Kindle); $32.00 (Hardcover),
1 credit (Audiobook – Peter, narrator)




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