Sunday, April 19, 2015

"The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Hidden China" by Huan Hsu

Huan Hsu is an ABC (an American born Chinese) in Salt Lake City. He implies that being an ABC, not Mormon in "lily white" SLC made him feel like quite the outsider.  He had (and still has) family in China but never felt the need to go and get in touch with his roots or anything like that. He knew some Chinese from  his parents when he was a child but it fell almost completely from his mind as he aged.

Then he hears a story, about his great-great grandfather that changes that. His ancestor lived in Xingang, a town on the Yangtze river that was invaded by the Japanese in 1938. When he knew the Japanese were coming, this man buried the collection of porcelain and money under their house. There was never the opportunity to come back to retrieve it. Huan begins to wonder what happened to the valuables, and being a journalist, decides that this is something he needs to investigate. Luckily, his uncle owns an incredibly successful business and gets him a job at his company, which is how he gets the visa to stay in country. Huan doesn't actually spend much time working, because he doesn't really know what is job is...which is a problem. He spends his time trying to improve his Chinese and figure out how he will execute his plan of finding this porcelain, and contacting distant relatives who might be able to help him find the land that he needs to dig on.

What I like about this book is that Huan doesn't romanticize his time in China.(Which is not to say that he doesn't really like parts of his experience, because I think he does). He gets pissed about things. Like kids popping in the street, or the little girl peeing in his apartment hallway right by his door. Or the pollution. Or the fact that it seems like all traffic laws are optional. Or the bureaucracy. Or the cultural peculiarities: like if you give a man a green hat it means he's a cuckold.You don't ever gift anyone a pair of shoes.Or you don't wear white or black to a wedding.

Also, the Chinese language is a beast to learn, and Huan even had some background.He talks about homonyms a lot (which I had to look up because I couldn't remember what a homonym was. Wikipedia says its  one of a group of words that share the same spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings). Like, the Chinese word for cockroach is a homonym for "filth wolf". Eek.

One of my favorite parts of the book was hearing the English names that the Chinese workers had picked for themselves. A man in the legal department is named "Superiority" (as someone who works in the legal field I'm just going to let that joke make itself.) There's also people named: Hebrew, Leafy, Vanilla, Quake, Cream, Bison, Ares, Feeling , Bear, Ivy, Kobe, Charming and Hyper. There's so many more. All of them equally great.

You also learn a lot about porcelain. I thought the porcelain hunting part was one of the less interesting parts of the book, even though it was the impetus for the whole thing.

This book also made me realize that I should read a couple books about the Cultural Revolution, Mao, and the Red Guard. I seem to be pretty deficient in knowledge in that area. And what's a couple more books on an endless "to-be-read" list? (Shrugs shoulders.)

I liked this book. I thought that the parts on general Chinese history, and the day to day living in modern China were the most interesting. I give it a high 3 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for your comment. I'd love to talk books with you!