Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present

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Harper Collins, Apr 25, 2006 - Travel - 512 pages
14 Reviews

From the acclaimed author of River Town comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of twenty-first-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world.

A century ago, outsiders saw Chinaas a place where nothing ever changes. Today the coun-try has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. That sense of time—the contrast between past and present, and the rhythms that emerge in a vast, ever-evolving country—is brilliantly illuminated by Peter Hessler in Oracle Bones, a book that explores the human side of China's transformation.

Hessler tells the story of modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world as seen through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. In addition to the author, an American writer living in Beijing, the narrative follows Polat, a member of a forgotten ethnic minority, who moves to the United States in searchof freedom; William Jefferson Foster, who grew up in an illiterate family and becomes a teacher; Emily,a migrant factory worker in a city without a past; and Chen Mengjia, a scholar of oracle-bone inscriptions, the earliest known writing in East Asia, and a man whosetragic story has been lost since the Cultural Revolution. All are migrants, emigrants, or wanderers who find themselves far from home, their lives dramatically changed by historical forces they are struggling to understand.

Peter Hessler excavates the past and puts a remarkable human face on the history he uncovers. In a narrative that gracefully moves between the ancient and the present, the East and the West, Hessler captures the soul of a country that is undergoing a momentous change before our eyes.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bostonian71 - LibraryThing

Enlightening despite being not as cohesive as it could've been. The separate stories Hessler tells are keenly observed and intelligently told, but he's not entirely successful at fitting them into one ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - comixminx - LibraryThing

Interesting and unusual; an area I know nothing about. Lots of fascinating stuff - on the oracle bones themselves (amazingly-preserved early writing from the Shang dynasty - 14th and 13th centuries BC ... Read full review

Contents

The Underground City
3
The Middleman
9
The Overnight City
77
Starch
101
Hollywood
114
The Voice of the Turtle
135
At Night Youre Not Lonely
149
Immigration
169
Sand
275
The Word
289
Translation
295
Flags
306
Straight to Video
310
The Horse
325
Wonton Western
335
Election
352

The Courtyard
174
The Bronze Head
189
Anniversary
199
Sichuanese
203
PART THREE
219
The Book
221
Asylum
231
The Uncracked Bone
243
The Games
259
Chinatown
369
State Visit
393
Encapsulate Prime
419
The Misprinted Character
431
Pattons Tomb
437
Tea
451
Acknowledgments
469
Copyright

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About the author (2006)

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as the Beijing correspondent from 2000 to 2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of River Town, which won the Kiriyama Book Prize, and Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting.

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