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.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China


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.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China


Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 1/2

May 28, 2012

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, which made me wonder if there is a lot he doesn’t respect about his homeland.

Maybe the reason why he continues to return to China is because of this infatuation with a culture that values family more than most Americans do.  In fact, in the memoir’s acknowledgements, I discovered that Hessler was married to Leslie T. Chang, which even my wife—a Chinese immigrant to the US, whose first book, a memoir of growing up during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year—didn’t know.


Leslie Chang discussing her novel “Factory Girls”

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, which is so Chinese.

For example, our daughter speaks Mandarin fluently and she was born in Chicago and is a product of the US public schools but with an immigrant mother and an American step father (me), which may explain (in part) why she is completing her second year at Stanford currently majoring in biology instead of trying out for American Idol while waiting tables in a Hollywood coffee shop.

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

Anyway, back to Country Driving. Much of Hessler’s memoir 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, which is 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 lives.

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 among them.

Continued on May 29, 2012 in Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 2

______________

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.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China


Second China Quiz

May 8, 2010
The answers may be found anywhere in the first three hundred posts for this blog.  The first person to answer all the questions correctly will win a free copy of either My Splendid Concubine or Our Hart.

This prize will be open until the first person answers all the questions correctly. Write your answers in a comment to this quiz.  Make sure to number the answers so they match the questions and provide an e-mail address for me to contact you. Each question has a link that will take you to where you may find the answers.

China

1. What does the First of all Virtues mean?

2. What is the Chinese attitude toward health care?

3. What was the life expectancy for the average Chinese person before the Communists won China in 1949?

4. What was the debate on salt and iron about?

5. Chinese Internet users are _____________ as likely to have blogs as Americans. (fill in the blank)

6. (From Similar “Oily” Interests) What is Wahhabism and where does the money come from to pay for this?

7. What happened during Deng Xiaoping’s Beijing Spring?

8.  What happened to Deng Xiaoping’s son when he spoke out against the Cultural Revolution?

9. What vital key does China hold for humanity’s future?

10. How does Communist China treat its minorities compared to the way minorities have been treated in the United States?

11. Who was Faith Dremmer and what happened to her?

12.  What did Peter Hessler say about happiness?

13.  How many of the world’s smokers live in China?

14.  What is the name of China’s Oprah and how large is her audience?

15. What is the difference between China’s labor laws and United States?

16. What did Lin Yutang say about the Chinese and Christianity?

17. What did the first emperor of China consume that contributed to his madness and death? (This answer is in one of the nine linked posts in a series about Qin Shi Huangdi.) Why did Qin Shi Huangdi do this? (must answer both questions for # 17)

18. When the “Cult of the Dead Cow” gains access to your computer, what do they do?

19. Which issue of National Geographic magazine provides proof that Tibet was part of China for centuries before Mao’s invasion and reoccupation?

20. What is the name of the all-electric car being manufactured in a joint effort between Chinese and California partners?

____________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the author of the award winning novels My Splendid Concubine and Our Hart. He also Blogs at The Soulful Veteran and Crazy Normal.

Sign up for an RSS Feed for iLook China


An Update about China’s Criminal Justice System

April 1, 2010

Amnesty International (started in 1961) says,” The time is long overdue for China to fall into line with international law and standards on the death penalty and be open and transparent regarding its use of capital punishment.”

My question is, who rules China – the government of China or Amnesty International?  Without taking into consideration the cultural differences that cause the Chinese to appear secretive, Amnesty International’s “demand” is uncalled for. Change takes time and change in China (a culture born about 2205 B.C.) does appear to be taking place. To understand the Chinese better, read what Peter Hessler has to say.

A few years ago, we would not have seen anything like this from China’s state-run English-language newspaper, China Daily, that inmates in China’s 2,700 pretrial detention centers suffer bullying and torture from fellow prisoners and police officers, and some criminal justice experts want a neutral body to take over the centers from the police to curb the abuses.

Meanwhile, the United States was the only nation in the Americas to carry out executions in 2009 with fifty-two executions. Saudi Arabia executed 69 people.  Iran executed at least 112 people in the 8 weeks after the last presidential election (we heard about that since Iran is on the list of evil countries).

See China Law and Justice System 

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

Sign up for an RSS Feed for iLook China