Ever been on a trip and spent two-third of your travel budget on books? Well, I have. It was seven years in the month of September, when a few of us had made an impromptu trip to Goa from Pune. Day 1, we land at Calungate beach and everyone is busy shopping, and I come back with an armful of books, including Canadian journalist John Fraser’s The Chinese – Portrait of a People.
I’ve always had a simmering interest in China and its people, culture, especially food and the arts, and I loved this book. A correspondent for the Toronto GLOBE and MAIL, John arrived in China in December 1977 and stayed on for two years. The book showcases his perspective on the inner world of China that so far, for a long time had been hidden, misunderstood and even feared. The book not only depicts China as per John, but to put on record certain events that may seem extremely complicated to a stranger’s eye.
All of us have a general idea of China that of the People’s Republic, the party, the importance of ranks and maintaining them, obedient officials and citizens, this is our idea of China, from the outside looking in. During his first few days, John explains how the West has often viewed China. He says when the first Jesuits had come in the 17th century, they saw a land of perfection marred only by the absence of Christianity. And then in the late 1970s, the West still views the country as a perfect land barring the absence of certain human rights or academic standards. He adds how it took his being among the Chinese that helped open his eyes towards their reality, and not one painted either by the West or by the Party.
During his tenure in China, John witnesses the events leading up to the Xidan Democracy Wall. From November 1978 to December 1979, thousands of people gathered at Xidan Street and put up posters on a long brick wall, raising their voices against the political and social issues of China. This is said to have laid the foundation for Chinese Democracy Movement.
When in Peking, John describes young people ice skating, poor peasants from rural China travel to Peking to petition for their grievances to be addressed, sculptures of ancient kingdoms and even how Peking is the city of bicycles.
Although I may not be scratching even the surface of the book, do read The Chinese for a better understanding of the many whorls of this beautiful country, however it may be caught up in its own issues.
This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.