On The Great Wall: Part 1 of 3

April 6, 2016

Like so much about China, The Great Wall is also the victim of myths that are not always true. Did you know that the history of the Great Wall of China started when fortifications built by various states during the Spring and Autumn (771 – 476 BC) and Warring States (475 – 221 BC) periods were connected by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi? But the best-known and best-preserved section of The Great Wall was built in the 14th through 17th centuries A.D., during the Ming Dynasty—more than two thousand years later.

If you want to know more about The Great Wall, I suggest reading Peter Hessler’s Country Driving. The first part of his book is about the months he spent driving the length of The Great Wall all the way to Tibet.

If you watch the video you will discover that before there was one wall, there were many—all built by different kingdoms before China was unified in 221 BC.

Although I enjoyed reading Country Driving, I think that the hundred and twenty-two pages that focus on The Great Wall are the best part.

Before reading Hessler’s book, I wrongly believed, as so many do, that The Great Wall was a failure as a defense against invaders. However, Hessler proves that myth wrong. For the most part, the wall did keep marauders out.

In fact, on page 116 of the paperback, Hessler quotes David Spindler who found evidence that the Ming Great Wall actually worked as a defensive structure.

The Great Wall failed when the unified Mongols invaded China in the 13th century but it didn’t happen overnight. It took sixty years for the Mongols to conquer all of China.

Before Genghis Khan unified the Mongols, there was no unified Mongolia—only nomadic tribes that fought amongst each other and raided into China whenever one or more tribes decided on a whim to go raiding. That is if they could fight their way past The Great Wall guarding China’s heartland.

Hessler points out that no archeologists or historians have studied the history of The Great Wall but there are amateurs that have, both Western and Chinese, and these Great Wall amateur (experts) have discovered original documents written by Ming Dynasty military officers and troops detailing the defense of the wall against nomads intent on raiding into China to loot, rape and steal. According to this information, the wall succeeded more than it failed.

Continued on April 7, 2016 in Part 2

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

A1 on March 13 - 2016 Cover Image with BLurbs to promote novel

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Traveling Modern China with Peter Hessler: Part 2 of 2

February 24, 2016

In the first 122 pages of Country DrivingPeter Hessler sets out to drive the entire length of the Great Wall in a rented Chinese made Jeep Cherokee, and he achieves his goal. In this section, I learned that the Wall was successful most of the time and not the failure historians claim it was. Yes, in several thousand years, the wall failed a few times but it served its purpose and did protect China’s heartland for centuries. Hessler says that there is no archaeologist in the world that has studied the history of the Great Wall but he wrote that there are amateur experts, and we meet a few in this section along with a unique view of rural China.

In Part II, Hessler takes us into a small village a few hours drive outside Beijing where he rents a house and becomes accepted by the insular-rural village community. Along the way, he makes friends and becomes involved personally with local families. The man that becomes his closest contact and friend in the village eventually joins the Chinese Communist Party (there are about 80 million CCP members in China) and uses this to his advantage as he continues to improve the quality of his family’s lifestyle.

In Part III, Hessler travels to the city of Winzhou in Southern China where he spends time developing relationships with factory bosses and workers.  In this section, the Chinese people he meets are open and friendly. Hessler sees a side of China that few witness, and it is obvious that the factory workers are not victims because of low pay and long work hours. Instead, they see this new life as an opportunity.


Peter Hessler discussing his novel “Oracle Bones”

When I finished Hessler’s memoir, I walked away feeling as if I had experienced an in-depth taste of the dramatic changes that have taken place in China since Mao’s death in 1976. Since China’s critics mostly focus on the negative, which is the corruption and/or authoritarian one-party system, and never admit the good that the CCP has accomplished, most people would not understand what I discovered.  To understand what I mean, one must compare China before 1949, by reading such books like those written by Hessler and his wife.

Before 1949, more than 90% of the people in China lived in severe poverty, more than 80% were illiterate, the average lifespan was 35, few people owned land, and the risk of death from famine had been an annual threat for more than two thousand years. In fact, most rural Chinese were treated as if they were beasts of burden and not humans.

Today, according to the CIA Factbook, about 6.1% of Chinese live in severe poverty (living on $400 or less annually), and they mostly live in remote, rugged, and difficult to reach areas of China.  The average  lifespan is now 75.4 years and Helen H. Wang writing for Forbes.com (February 2011) reported that China’s middle class is already larger than the entire population of the United States and is expected to reach 800 million in by 2026. In addition, no one has died of famine since 1959-1961.

I highly recommend Country Living for anyone that wants to learn more about today’s dramatically changing China from an unbiased and honest perspective.

Return to or start with Part 1

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Traveling Modern China with Peter Hessler: Part 1 of 2

February 23, 2016

Most books that I’ve read of China cover its history up to Mao’s death and after 1949, it is difficult to trust almost anything one reads in the West or in China, since most of this work is either biased and/or propagandized in the West or propaganda in China since the mass media is owned by the State.

However, I’m glad that I read Peter Hessler’s memoir of China, Country Driving. Rarely does Hessler intrude with his own Western bias—if there is one—which appears to make a slight appearance near the end. I suspect that his editor at Harper Collins suggested that he add it to the story, and he complied, because the few opinions he expresses near the conclusion of his memoir do not match the experiences that he shares with his readers in the rest of the book. In fact, while reading the book, I grew to trust Hessler’s perspective of today’s China.

It is obvious that Hessler honestly loves/respects China and its people and this infatuation runs throughout the memoir. He also carefully or unintentionally avoids mention of what he thinks about his own culture.

Maybe the reason why he continues to return to China in his writing is because of this infatuation with a culture that values family more than most Western cultures do.  In fact, in the memoir’s acknowledgements, I discovered that Hessler was married to Leslie T. Chang.

Hessler’s wife is the author of Factory Girls, which is also about today’s China. Chang is Chinese-American and a graduate of Harvard. She is also an accomplished journalist and was raised outside New York City by immigrant parents, who forced her to attend Saturday-morning Chinese school.


Leslie Chang discussing her novel “Factory Girls”

Both Peter and Leslie have published work that went on to be honored as New York Times Notable Books.

Much of Hessler’s book was connected to projects he wrote at The New Yorker or National Geographic. The memoir is divided into three sections:  Book I, The Wall; Book II, The Village, and Book III, The Factory.

Throughout the book there is a common theme: the independence and individuality of most Chinese and the failure of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda, that’s there but often ignored by most of the people unless they can use the CCP to their own advantage.  That doesn’t mean the propaganda has no influence but the people seldom let it get in their way as they work to improve the quality of their lifestyles.

In fact, it becomes clear in Hessler’s memoir that there are three Chinas: there is rural China, urban China and the Chinese Communist Party and many shades of gray between them.

Continued on February 24, 2016 in Part 2

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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Peter Hessler on China

March 3, 2015

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

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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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Honoring Foreign Devil Heroes

November 20, 2012

It is ironic that in the 1940s we were fighting with the Chinese against the Japanese. Then in 1950, China and the US fought against each other in North Korea and Chinese advisers were sent to assist North Vietnam to fight the US in the 1960s.

Then Nixon arrives in China in the 1970s and we were friends again.

In February 2010, I had an instant message chat with Ian Carter, an Australian expatriate living in Southeast China, and learned that during World War II in 1944 an American B-24 Liberator bomber vanished without a trace in Southeast China.

Fifty-two years later in 1996, farmers discovered the bomber’s wreckage and the remains of the ten-man crew on Mao’er Shan (Little Cat Mountain), Southern China’s highest peak. The name of the B-24 bomber was Tough Titi.

These Americans are considered heroes (click on this link for more about this story) to the Chinese, and the remains of the crew were returned to the United States for burial.

There’s a memorial stone near the crash site and Chinese tourists pay honor to these Americans by leaving flowers and other gifts.

To honor these heroes further, the Chinese recovered some of the bomber’s parts and used them as a centerpiece for a museum in Xing’an, about four hours from the crash site.

Discover Country Driving (in China) by Peter Hessler

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Visiting The Great Wall – Part 1/3

July 23, 2012

Like so much about China, The Great Wall is also the victim of myths and lies.

I’m reading Peter Hessler’s “Country Driving“, which is a great book that I plan to review when I finish it. However, his first chapter covers the months he spent driving the length of the Great Wall all the way to Tibet.

In fact, before there was one wall, there were many—all built by different kingdoms before China was unified under Qin Shi Huangdi in 221 BC.

Although I’m enjoying all of Hessler’s memoir, the hundred and twenty-two pages that focus on the Great Walls are the best part of the book.

Before reading Hessler’s memoir, I wrongly believed, as so many others do, that The Great Wall was a failure as a defense against invaders.  However, Hessler proves that myth wrong.  For the most part, the wall did keep marauders out.

In fact, on page 116 of the paperback, he quotes David Spindler who found evidence that the Ming Great Wall actually worked as a defensive structure.

The Wall failed when the unified Mongols invaded China in the 13th century but it didn’t happen overnight. It took sixty years for the Mongols to conquor all of China.

Before Genghis Khan unified the Mongols, there was no unified Mongolia—only nomadic tribes that fought amongst each other and raided into China whenever one or more tribes decided on a whim—that is if they could fight their way past the Great Wall guarding China’s heartland.

In section one of “Country Driving”, The Wall, Hessler points out that no archeologists/historians have studied the history of The Great Wall but there are amateurs that have, both Western and Chinese and these Great Wall amateur (experts) have discovered original documents written by Ming Dynasty military officers and troops detailing the defense of the wall against nomads intent on raiding into China to loot, rape and steal. According to this information, the wall served its purpose more often than not.

Continued on July 24, 2012 in Visiting The Great Wall – Part 2

Note: I wrote this post about two months ago and scheduled it to appear July 23 before I finished reading Hessler’s memoir. Then after I wrote the review, I scheduled it to appear before this post appeared. You may find the review here: Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler

I often write and schedule posts weeks in advance with the goal to stay one month ahead. That way I may take a few days off now and then from writing posts.

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 2/2

May 29, 2012

In the first 122 pages of Country Driving, Peter Hessler sets out to drive the entire length of the Great Wall in a rented Chinese made Jeep Cherokee and he achieves his goal. In this section, I learned that the Wall was successful most of the time and not the failure historians claim it was. Yes, in several thousand years, the wall failed a few times but it served its purpose and did protect China’s heartland for centuries. Hessler says that there is no archaeologist in the world that has studied the history of the Great Wall but wrote there are amateur experts (we meet a few in this section along with a unique view of rural China) that have proven through historical research that the wall did work.

In Part II, Hessler takes us into a small village a few hours drive outside Beijing where he rents a house and becomes accepted by the insular-rural village community making friends and becoming involved personally with local families. The man that becomes his closest contact and friend in the village eventually joins the CCP (there are only about 80 million members in China) and then uses this to his advantage as he continues to improve the quality of his family’s lifestyle.

In Part III, Hessler travels to the city of Winzhou in Southern China where he spends time developing relationships with factory bosses and workers.  In this section, the Chinese people he meets are open and friendly. Hessler sees a side of China that few witness and it is obvious that the factory workers are not victims because of low pay and long hours of work but see this new life as an opportunity.


Peter Hessler discussing his novel “Oracle Bones”

When I finished Hessler’s memoir, I walked away feeling as if I had experienced an in-depth taste of the dramatic changes that have taken place in China since Mao’s death in 1976. Since China’s critics mostly focus on the negative, which is the corruption and/or authoritarian one-party system, and never admit the good that the CCP has accomplished, most people would not understand what I discovered.  To understand what I mean, one must compare China before 1949 with today by reading such books as those written by Hessler and his wife.

Before 1949, more than 90% of the people in China lived in severe poverty, more than 80% were illiterate, the average lifespan was 35, few people owned land, and the risk of death from famine had been an annual threat for more than two thousand years. In fact, most rural Chinese were treated as if they were beasts of burden and not human.

Today, about 13% live in severe poverty and those people mostly live in remote, rugged, difficult to reach areas of China.  The lifespan is now about 73 years and Helen H. Wang writing for Forbes.com (February 2011) reported that China’s middle class is already larger than the entire population of the United States and is expected to reach 800 million in fifteen years (2026). In addition, no one has died of famine since 1959-1961.

I highly recommend Country Living for anyone that wants to learn more about today’s dramatically changing China from an unbiased perspective.

Return to Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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