River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze
A copy of Peter Hessler's book River Town in a Fuling restaurant
|Country||United States of America|
|Subject||Chinese memoirs about two years spent in Fuling, China as an English teacher|
New York Times Notable Book
|Website||Peter Hessler's Official Web Page|
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze is a 2001 book by Peter Hessler. It documents his Peace Corps teaching assignment at Fuling Teachers College in Fuling, Sichuan, which started in 1996 and lasted for two years; Fuling is now part of Chongqing municipality.
The book is a memoir of his experience in Fuling, told in first person. The main people featured in the book are Hessler's fellow American teacher Adam, Chinese teachers Liao and Kong who teach the Americans Mandarin, and Anne, one of Peter's brightest students. Hessler uses many Chinese terms (normally romanized) to refer to common things or people, to make them look more typical of Chinese culture. For instance, foreigners are often referred to as waiguoren, girls are called xiaojies, porters are called stick-stick soldiers (translated literally from the Sichuanese term 棒棒军 bàngbàngjūn), and so on.
Each chapter includes a short annex which describes Fuling's most notable places in the present tense, whilst normal chapters are set in the past and use the past simple, present perfect and past perfect tenses. Excerpts from writing assignments given to Chinese students are often included. Some of Hessler's students had abortions or committed suicide during his time in Fuling.
Fuling was very different from now in the two-year period 1996-1998. There were no streets and highways, and the life, the schooling system as well as the working conditions and salaries were worse than now. History also plays a role in the narrative, when Deng Xiaoping's death and Hong Kong's return (1997) give the author the chance to exchange opinions with the locals and participate in the celebration of those events.
The campus where Peter Hessler was teaching was called Fuling Teachers College and it used to be a college for teachers. As shown on the map found in the book, it was located in Jiangdong area at that time. The Jiangdong campus then became Yangtze Normal University and eventually it was shut down. Now it serves as a dormitory for the elderly. Nowadays, Fuling Teachers College, together with Yangtze Normal University, is located in the newly built Lidu (李渡镇) neighborhood.
The book won the Kiriyama Prize and it has also been a New York Times Notable Book. Marlene Chamberlain of Booklist concluded that "This is a colorful memoir from a Peace Corps volunteer who came away with more understanding of the Chinese than any foreign traveler has a right to expect."