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Oracle Bones

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  4,267 ratings  ·  468 reviews
Oracle Bones From the acclaimed author of River Town comes a rare and authentic portrait - both intimate and epic - of twenty-first century China as it opens its doors to the world Full description
Published February 22nd 2007 by John Murray (first published January 1st 2006)
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I can’t say enough about this author; I’m really enchanted with him. I feel as if he’s really grown as a writer since “River Town,” his first book. He’s only a little older than me and I hope to be able to keep coming back to him through his writing for my whole life and see how his thinking progresses.
I think when I started the book I was comparing it to “Eat, Pray, Love” because both are non-fiction works about living abroad. Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey around the world is a sort of outward ma
(I suddenly realized, on reaching page 454, what it was about this book..., this author.... Though the writing is non-fiction, it was like reading Borges...)

This is a beautiful, surprising, and stunningly good book -- much richer than one could imagine. For anyone interested in the context and texture of modern China, this is a must read.
I ran into Hessler's narration on his teaching experience in Fuling two years ago. It was just an excerpt of his book in Chinese, translated by an unknown writer, published in a magazine named BOOK TOWN that cater to the taste of new intellectuals in China by imitating the style and design of NEW YORKER. I read it all through, non-stopped, which is rare for my reading style, and found myself somewhat lost in the delicacy and poetic nature of his writing. Also did I feel a sense of nostalgia and ...more
Dec 22, 2007 Matthew rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of travel writing
Shelves: essaysjournalism
Hessler's portrait of China is humbling, especially reading it as a Singaporean Chinese. We have many preconceptions of how materialistic or coarse the mainland Chinese are: the book does not deny it, but emphasizes a very different side of China. In the chapter on Shenzhen, in particular, when he profiles a former factory worker turned talk show host who sticks to her moral guns, and becomes an inspiration for many blue collar factory girls, in sharp contrast to the white collar Chinese novelis ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
From the tiny photo on the back cover of "Oracle Bones", Peter Hassler looks like a friend of mine, A., when I was at the university.

One day, around 10 years ago, I met this fellow out of our "Media and communication" department and I told him that he should have tried doing some internship in order to get the 5 credits he missed before getting his degree.

I remember how he originally wanted to take part to some sort of seminar on semiotics or something and I insisted that it was a waste of time.
This second volume of Hessler’s China reportage is superior to River Town--in part, Hessler knows China much better now and, as a result, his gaze has broadened and deepened, no longer hemmed in by the realities of second-English teaching in a somewhat backwater town and by the limitations of interaction with a series of hyper-driven, consumer-mad students and rather quirky and sometimes sinister administrators. In Oracle Bones, he is more confident; he knows China and the Chinese better, and he ...more
Bob Reed
I loved Peter Hessler's first book, River Town. In fact, it was the first book I gave a 5-star rating. Oracle Bones fits into the same genre, but for me it fell somewhat flat. What made River Town so appealing to me was the personal stories of the people in Hessler's life. Oracle Bones has some of that, but it is set within a larger context. Hessler tries to superimpose his various experiences and the experiences of the Chinese people he knows onto the canvas of China's history. This obviously a ...more
I didn't know much about China before so I found the various glimpses this book provides interesting. It's focused on three things-- a) Chinese archaeologists of the 20th century and some of their discoveries, b) a Uighur trader, and c) recent students of the author who taught English for a while and how they're lives in some of China that has opened up to capitalism. It seems that everything in China that is suppose to help move it forward (whether communism or capitalism and the government pr ...more
Jul 04, 2007 Jennifer rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are interested in Chinese culture
I LOVE his writing. This book, like his other book River Town is a joy to read, and I tore through this. This book examines modern China from the point of view of many of its everyday citizens, especially those marginalized, while simultaneously exploring the previous generation's experiences through the pursuit of an archaelogical mystery. The most interesting things about this book were: the Chinese perspective on September 11th (or at least the perspective of an American who is in China durin ...more
I just read this before going to China. This is a must read if you plan on going to China and want to know what to expect, or if you want to know current China and how the distant and recent past has shaped China today.

Hessler went to China in 1996 as a Peace Corps volunteer to teach English. And he stayed, becoming a newspaper reporter, then magazine writer, and now a non-fiction author. Hessler recently published the introductory and concluding articles in the National Geographic Special Editi
This book was one of the best ones I read last year. Peter Hessler manages to give an insider and outsider's view of China. He first arrived in China as a teacher and then stayed in contact with his students when he moved to Beijing as a journalist. What makes this book fascinating and a pleasure to read is the way he sympathetically tells the stories of his Chinese friends.
This is a book I would never had picked up but I am surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Hessler journeys between China's past and present through the parallel stories of oracle bones (pieces of bone used in royal divination and some of the first chinese writings in history),3 the students he once taught in his english class in China and other Chinese people he meets along the way. It is very interesting to follow the lives of his 3 students and the hardships they face as young migrant workers i
Mark Oppenlander
Several years ago, Beth and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chaperone a Study Abroad trip to China. The lead faculty member on that trip required her students to read a number of pre-trip books. Since I had never been to Asia before, I grabbed the reading list too and soaked up as much of it as I could. One of the books on her list was Peter Hessler's "River Town." It was a terrific book describing his two years as a Peace Corp teacher in Fuling, a smaller city near Chengdu in centra ...more
Troy Parfitt
Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler’s second effort, or Part II, as it were, of his China trilogy, chronicles, mainly, the lives of various Chinese people, from archeologists and intellectuals to the author’s friends and former students. Many of the narratives seem to be more detailed and more rewarding versions of his newspaper and magazine articles. Themes and “characters” recur and are given a sort of chronological treatment. The glue that binds the book together, the oracle bones, is also a sort of ...more
This is a nonfiction book about China's past and present and how they interrelate, specifically focusing on linguistics and archaeology. I found the history parts a bit dry (lots of small, dense text, no pictures, etc.) but that's partially because I'm not a big history person. But I really liked the anecdotal parts, where the author talks in depth about people's lives who were friends and acquaintances of his. I particularly liked Polat, the Uighur businessman friend who emigrates to America an ...more
Robin Watson
I enjoyed the China of today and the China of yesterday as described in Peter Hessler's experiences. So many terrible things happened to good people, back in the day...I think of the extermination of the Jews and people who supported them...for what? Is China really changing with Opening and Reform? Can People from the West get a true picture? I think Peter Hessler's book takes on a journey of real Chinese people...people who live the life and the politics and the culture. Something that was sai ...more
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I was amazed at how fast I tore through it.

The author was an English teacher in China in the Peace Corps, and then became a journalist based in Beijing. This book describes his experiences in China from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, focusing mostly on people and personalities, but also on the wealth of artifacts discovered in China during the last 100 years. These archaeological finds shed new light on the vast expanse of Chinese history, and al
Marie Sweetman
Hessler's a journalist who lives in Beijing. This book gracefully entwines the past and present of Chinese history by chronicling a few 'ordinary' lives: Polat, a black-market money-trading Uighur who seeks political asylum in the United States, William Jefferson Foster and Nancy Drew, two of Hessler's former students who migrated to Wenzhou for work, Emily, another former student who migrated to what's been called the "soulless" city of Shenzhen, and Chen Mengjia, a scholar of oracle-bones whos ...more
Reads like a protracted New Yorker article, documenting the lives of the normal mainland Chinese that Hessler met while he was teaching outside Chongqing and living in Beijing. Great insight into the issues facing another group of politically marginalized Chinese, the Uighurs from Xinjiang. Great examination of life in China as it's lived by normal Chinese whose lives are given incredible scale by Hessler's description. Abounds in one of the hardest things to come by when talking and thinking ab ...more
This is the book that started me reading Peter Hessler books. I have read River Town and am currently emersed in Country Driving. Here is an excerpt from Country Driving/ Book II: The Village, which is an example of what it is I like about all these of books:

" In the afternoons, when I had finished my writing for the day, I went for long hikes along these routes. They were rocky trails, winding through the orchards, and they passed the ruins of remote settlements that had been abandoned. Along
I cannot recommend Hessler enough. If you want to know what life is like in China, he is your guide. If you've never been to China, I would recommend River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. It's more anecdotal and has more humor. This book has a lot of history,which if you're not that interested, can weigh the story down. But his writing style is very Western-friendly without losing the essential Chinese feel. This is a delicate balance and even some of the best Asian American fiction writers coul ...more
I enjoyed Peter Hessler's previous book, River Town. Reading the next one was obvious. The first was a memoir of his 2-year stint in Fuling, China on the Yangtze River as a Peace Corp Volunteer teaching English. He learned Chinese during that time and became enamored with China. Subsequently, he became a freelance journalist in China. This book chronicles many of his experiences and weaves a variety of experiences together having to do with the ethnic diversity among Chinese people and the diffi ...more
This is the best book on China's past and present out of Hessler's three books. Picking up ordinary Chinese life stories features all of his works; Sichuanese migrants' struggles with their new life in the eastern or southern boomtowns during the early days of Reform and Opening and their joy because of their hard work and open attitude towards the changing society. In addition to his sharp but warm observations on his Chinese friends or the other he dealt with as a journalist, the research on C ...more
Derek Henderson
Huge disappointment after enjoying "River Town" so much. Hessler doesn't have any control over his material here. He throws everything he's got at the reader - potted biographies, screeds of verbatim quotes, contemporary and ancient history - poorly digested and with a complete lack of focus. No detail is so insignificant that it won't get shoved in. A quick example: we're in the States, accompanying an Uighur who is trying to gain asylum. He has a lawyer. But, of course, the lawyer has a backst ...more
Initially I found this book frustrating to read mainly because of the disjointed way it is structured. The author's journeys and conversations with his Chinese friends and former students are interspersed with sections described as 'Artifacts' which describe historical events and archeological research in China. The author is a free-lance journalist writing for the New Yorker and some of the chapters appear to be adapted from his articles which may explain the disjointedness.

I found the personal
I thought it was a travel book. It's not. It's more a memoir of a foreign correspondent in China, as well as a portrait of modern China -- vignettes about people Hessler knows -- interspersed with histories of select artifacts (which I ended up skipping because I found them boring). It's an uneven book -- some parts are really fascinating, others sleep-inducing.
The author truly immersed himself in the Chinese experience, living the life and speaking the language. Like any great journalist, he has an immense interest in and love of people. He reveals much about a country that's still largely a mystery to me by revealing a few of the interesting individuals he's known. The run in with the Chinese police is a great story!
Josh Fish
Extremely fascinating, even to non-Sinophiles. Not only does this book deeply illuminate China and Chinese culture to the Westerner, but it is also well written. Many threads and characters continue through to a satisfying end. It is not just a barrage of facts but a fascinating story of an American's encounter with China.
This was great. I was a bit skeptical of this book, lent to me by a friend, thinking it'd be all Under the Tuscan Sun rose-colored travelogue, but it's nothing like that. The author is a journalist who spent about 5 years in China (about 1998 through 2002), writing articles and teaching English. He turned his experiences into an entirely non-journalistic set of interconnected first-person stories, about how he learned about various aspects of China. His students, mostly rural kids from Szechuan, ...more
Amazing book. Peter Hessler has sharp but subtle wit, combined with personal experiences, interviews with people where were there, and research into the past.

The way Hessler weaves what happened thousands of years ago, with what is happening in China today is mesmerizing if you have any interest in China. Anyone should find this a 5-star book, but if you have a special interest in China (I am going for a trip there soon) then you do not want to miss this one.

Every book that read about China make
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Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as Beijing correspondent from 2000-2007, 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.
More about Peter Hessler...
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land DuMont Reiseabenteuer Orakelknochen

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“Every always says that their product is the best," said Mr.Wang. "They have to talk about how much better they are than the competition, and usually they believe it. But the truth is that it's much easier once you realize that your product is inferior. Then you can focus on just doing business!” 0 likes
“Virtually every Chinese citizen whom I came to know well was doing something technically illegal, although usually the infraction was so minor that they didn’t have to worry. It might be a sketchy apartment registration or a small business that bought its products from unlicensed wholesalers. Sometimes, it was comic: late at night, there were always people out walking their dogs in Beijing, because the official dog registration was ridiculously expensive. The dogs were usually ratlike Pekingese, led by sleepy owners who snapped to alertness if they saw a cop. They were guerillas walking toy dogs.” 0 likes
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