Once upon a time there was a young woman who was called to get an MA in TESL and move to China for two years. Neither seemed too scary, so she did. While earning her MA, she worked jobs that allowed some flexibility and spent two summers teaching in China. The first summer was a bit of a trial run. “Did I hear you correctly, Oh Great Knower of All Cultures and individuals? You said China was a good fit for me. Right?”
At the end of the summer she cried so hard that teammates thought she had fallen in love. She did not know the rumors floating around until much later. But the truth was she had fallen in love. Not with one person (as was assumed – and when she heard this she wondered how this got started since she spent time with many), instead with a place that fit her so well, she was truly and fully herself and to leave was a kind of breaking. A breaking that went deeper than mere heart level, to very personhood.
As you can guess, that fair maiden is me and that first summer was twenty years ago. Twenty years! Wasn’t 1992, um, when we were partying like it was 1999? Out of curiosity to celebrate the 20th year anniversary, I looked up what you get or do for the twentieth and then I laughed out loud.
Traditional: China and Porcelain
Travel ideas: San Francisco or China
I think we’ve got that covered.
So, instead I’ve decided to have my own anniversary party all week here at The Messy Middle!
Being a book person, here are some of my favorite books and blogs about China:
Favorite nonfiction book about modern China: China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power by Rob Gifford. Gifford goes on the ultimate road trip, following Highway 312 from one end of the country (Shanghai) to the other (Northwest, Xinjiang). Traveling east to west, he cuts a great cross section of modern day life. As a journalist, he knows how to tell and story. This book is for anyone.
Favorite nonfiction book about something in Chinese history: Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French. In 1937 a British girl was murdered in Beijing (Peking). This story reads like a modern day thriller, exposing “the seedy underbelly of Beijing.” Again, this is for anyone!
Runner up: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang. This is NOT an easy read and has graffic pictures; but if you want to understand some of the animosity that exists still today between Chinese and Japanese, this book helped provide context. It is told from three perspectives: the Japanese, the Chinese, and the foreigners who stayed in Nanjing. But, let me repeat, not an easy read.
Favorite three fiction books about China
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck — This is a classic for a reason! Buck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for the story that follows Wang Lung as he gains and losses in life.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa See –At a young age, Lily and Snowflower become ‘sworn sisters’ a committed relationship whose bond is stronger than marriage. My friend Joann wrote about insiders and outsiders as it relates to this book.
City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell – Will and Katherine moved to Guang Ping Cheng, China in 1904 where they lived for the next 20 years. Burying their only child, living through famine and war, setting up a clinic and school and starting a church — a picture of the dance between seeing amazing things happen among very ordinary and hard times.
If you’re interested in reading more about China, my friend Joann Pittman has put together this comprehensive list on her Literary Journey to a Sinophile.
What books would you add? What’s something you’ve done for a long time or ways you have marked anniversaries?
Thanks for celebrating with me! Amy
Cousin Nancy Begg says
I am anxious to read the non-fiction books you mentioned. I have read The Good Earth many times. If memory serves, it was very popular when your mom and I were young. I have also read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I really enjoyed it but it was difficult to read about the binding of womens feet. How terribly painful that must be for them and I understand it is not done as often as sit used to be. Thank you for the suggestion of new books to read! Love, Cousin Nan
Cousin Nan, one of the delightful surprises of the blog has been being in more regular contact with you. I can just picture you and Mom as girls, reading together :)
It was 15 years ago, right around this time that I had my first China experience (with your organization!!! I remember you well!) my path didn’t keep my feet in China, but for sure my heart! I always love Wild Swans. I’ve also enjoyed everything by Lisa See. A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling was great too! I’m excited to read your suggestions! I’m loving your blog!!! Amy V. H.
Fellow Amy and China lover :), so good to hear from you! Wild Swans, yes, yes, yes! I need to check out Chai Ling. Amy, thanks for taking the time to stop by. I’m smiling reading this!
LeAnne P says
Happy happy anniversary! That is hilarious that your gifts are China and more China. Maybe that means you should explore more of China. You know, like maybe Xi’an? :)
China Road was probably the best requirement made of us. Will always be a favorite. Girl, I read The Rape of Nanking this summer and have some work to do on my own heart now. That book made me so mad! I’d heard just the perimeter of what happened and, of course, thought it terrible. Reading the details, now that will tick you off. I put it down more than once saying I couldn’t finish it.
I’m jotting down your other suggestions as I always trust Amy recommendations!
Thanks for the happy wishes :) … Xi’an, now there’s a good thought! And yes, that book, it’s not an “easy” read at all — I just had no idea such AWFUL things existed (and wondered how the entire Pacific Realm of WWII wasn’t taught more when I was in high school, but that is slightly off topic :))
welcome home, dear one!
Hayden Sewall says
I remember learning everything I know now about teaching from you in California and Chiang Mai. I was also dusting off my old VN slides and scanning them. Wow, what an incredible time and place to be living!
I haven’t read many books, but I liked Peter Hessler’s book, River Town, and I saw that he had written a road trip book too. But there was one I kind of liked better from an earlier time called “A Bend in the Yellow River,” both are teaching in China accounts. The second one has some hilarious scenes of trying to avoid overeating at Chinese Banquets.
Oh Hayden, you make me smile. You are truly Asian in your giving me face … You were a faithful student. River Town! YES, Love that one too! And will need to check out “A Bend in the Yellow River” :)
Amy F. says
Well, Amy, I must concur with your selection (those that I’ve read…China Road, Good Earth, Snowflower…) and “ditto” that Chai Ling’s book and Wild Swans (seriously, you haven’t read that one yet?! LOL) are great as well. I almost purchased Midnight in Peking for my Kindle but haven’t…yet…and the Nanking book is on my list, though it will likely be difficult to get through, as mentioned. So fun to share with those who love China-lit as well! :) Wheee… Thinking of you and China from your home state.
Oops, I didn’t mean to say I hadn’t read Wild Swans (I have :)) … but the Chai Ling, that one, I haven’t read. OH, greet Colorado with a deep breath of clean air and enjoy it for me :)!!
Amy F. says
P.S. Happy China anniversary! Love ya! :)
Debbie Marshall says
Wow, congrats on 20 years, and dont forget the platinum in the middle of all that China. We could all do with a little platinum, eh? :)
What I remember learning from you is what I will recommend as part of your celebration. “Release”!!! Release the tension, release the love, release the irrevocable gifts that the good Lord has placed within you, so that you can be a fuller blessing to others, thru the blessings you have received (for that very purpose).
Again, an amazing 20 years, CONGRATULATIONS. dm
Oh Debbie! Release! What a great blessing for an anniversary!
Debbie Marshall says
PS: Thanks for the “Messy Middle”. It seems I was born in that land, continue to live there, and am grateful for your acknowledgement of it’s existence and navigability. Release, and REJOICE
:) … just that!
Wow…20 years, Amy?! What an adventure He has had you on! You’re blog is looking GREAT, by the way :)
I KNOW :) Oh Holly, I miss you. Let’s find some time to chat!