Peter Hessler on China

Peter Hessler arrived in China with the Peace Core in 1996 and taught English for two years. After leaving the Peace Corps, Hessler freelanced for The Atlantic Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and The New York Times before becoming the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker until 2007. He lived in China about fifteen years.

Today, Hessler is better known for his books on China: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (2001), Oracle Bones (2006), and Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory (2010). His latest work is Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013).

I agree with Hessler when he said in a CNNGo interview, “People in China are not forthcoming like Americans; they don’t like to tell you their personal story. It’s a type of modesty, I think, in a culture where people are not encouraged to see themselves as the center of the universe.”

I have a born-again Christian friend—a white American—who boasted about Christianity being the fastest growing religion in China. I wonder what he’d say if he’d read what Hessler thinks: “The Chinese relationship with religion is pragmatic and fluid; people often change their faith very quickly. And I don’t see them following religion to a degree where it’s clearly not in their self-interest.”

And I also wonder what my old fundamentalist Christian friend would think if he knew the results of the CFPS 2012 survey of 25 of the provinces of China that found only 10% of the population belonged to organized religions—specifically, 6.75% were Buddhists (87.8 million), 2.4% (31.2 million) were Christians (of which 1.89% Protestants and 0.41% Catholics), 0.54% were Taoists, 0.46% were Muslims, and 0.40% declared to belong to other religions. Although 90% (1.17 billion) of the population declared to not belong to any religion, the authors of the survey estimated that only 6.3% were atheists neither believing nor worshipping gods and ancestors.

On happiness, Hessler says, “At this particular moment I think that Americans … might be less happy than Chinese people. The Chinese can roll with the punches. … Everybody in China has seen ups and downs; if they get laid off from the factory, they just go back to the village and play mah-jong.”


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010” Awards


Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

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