Other Rivers: A Chinese Education (Hardcover)

Other Rivers: A Chinese Education By Peter Hessler Cover Image

Other Rivers: A Chinese Education (Hardcover)


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An intimate and revelatory account of two generations of students in China’s heartland, by an author who has observed the country’s tumultuous changes over the past quarter century

More than two decades after teaching English during the early part of China’s economic boom, an experience chronicled in his book River Town, Peter Hessler returned to Sichuan Province to instruct students from the next generation. At the same time, Hessler and his wife enrolled their twin daughters in a local state-run elementary school, where they were the only Westerners. Over the years, Hessler had kept in close contact with many of the people he had taught in the 1990s. By reconnecting with these individuals—members of China’s “Reform generation,” now in their forties—while teaching current undergrads, Hessler gained a unique perspective on China’s incredible transformation.

In 1996, when Hessler arrived in China, almost all of the people in his classroom were first-generation college students. They typically came from large rural families, and their parents, subsistence farmers, could offer little guidance as their children entered a brand-new world. By 2019, when Hessler arrived at Sichuan University, he found a very different China, as well as a new kind of student—an only child whose schooling was the object of intense focus from a much more ambitious cohort of parents. At Sichuan University, many young people had a sense of irony about the regime but mostly navigated its restrictions with equanimity, embracing the opportunities of China’s rise. But the pressures of extreme competition at scale can be grueling, even for much younger children—including Hessler’s own daughters, who gave him an intimate view into the experience at their local school.

In Peter Hessler’s hands, China’s education system is the perfect vehicle for examining the country’s past, present, and future, and what we can learn from it, for good and ill. At a time when anti-Chinese rhetoric in America has grown blunt and ugly, Other Rivers is a tremendous, essential gift, a work of enormous empathy that rejects cheap stereotypes and shows us China from the inside out and the bottom up. As both a window onto China and a mirror onto America, Other Rivers is a classic from a master of the form.
Peter Hessler is a staff writer at the New Yorker, where he served as Beijing correspondent from 2000 to 2007, Cairo correspondent from 2011 to 2016, and Chengdu correspondent from 2019 to 2021. He is the author of The Buried; River Town, which won the Kiriyama Book Prize; Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; Country Driving; and Strange Stones. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting, and he was named a MacArthur fellow in 2011.
Product Details ISBN: 9780593655337
ISBN-10: 0593655338
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: July 9th, 2024
Pages: 464
Language: English
“In River Town (2001), Hessler described teaching English and learning Chinese in the remote town of Fuling. Back after 20 years, much has changed . . . Throughout, Hessler shares the words of his students—variously curious, skeptical, tired, and wise—in what is, at heart, a meditation on teaching and learning from one’s students.” Booklist (starred)

“Hessler paints an expansive panorama of China . . . The result is an enthralling take on China’s remarkable progress and its downside.” Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Peter Hessler has written a wryly observed, deeply empathetic portrait of modern China, told through the lives of his Chinese students and his own daughters' experiences at a local school. Hessler avoids sweeping conclusions, trusting that the country’s real story emerges from microhistories, everyday conversations and amusing glimpses into daily life. This is journalism at its most humane, and (especially for those of us who aren't Sinologists) a perfect primer on what China is really like.” —Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
“Fascinating and engrossing. Other Rivers is an extraordinary work of foreign correspondence and memoir, drawn from a quarter century of direct and intimate observation. With deep sympathy, humor and seriousness, Hessler portrays several generations of Chinese lives in the throes of staggering social, political and economic transformations—and how their experience responds to and reflects on our own.” —Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families
“The hardest and most important challenge in writing about China is conveying the vivid individuality of the people who make it up. Peter Hessler does this wonderfully again. The students whose stories fill Other Rivers are funny but also super-serious, idealistic but also cynical, hopeful but also resigned—and in all ways memorable. They are China’s next generation, and we are fortunate to be able to meet them in this book.” —James Fallows, author of China Airborne and other books

“Beyond the headlines of strategic rivalry and military confrontation with China are countless stories of real people trying to live in a complex country . . . [Hessler] tells [students’] stories with empathy and affection . . . shines a valuable light on the reality of life in today’s China.” ​Kirkus​