Stories from My Chinese Journey

Another Old China Hands

Mark Levine is the author of “Stories from My Chinese Journey”. He is also a member of my monthly gathering, the Old China Hands Lunch, see here the latest lunch where he was present. He is also part of our Foreign Expert team under SAFEA (China International Talent Exchange Foundation) and we jointly participated is several events. See here about our team.

Two pics from our trip to Qinyuan, Shanxi Province – Changzhi City, where Mark took the stage, to the delight of the local crowd, in August 2019.
Mark, together with his partner Ms. Fu Han, have performed all over China. Their duo is called In Side Out, here their introduction in Chinese: In Side Out_intro

About his book

I had the honor to write a few words for “Stories from My Chinese Journey”, see the pic of the back of the book.
I finally read it, I am terribly behind in my reading…

I admire Mark for his talents as a speaker, professor, musician and especially for his role as a bridge between China and the West. I am also impressed how he could remember so many details of his intense track record. I am so bad at it myself.

He brings a unique and personal insight in the Chinese academic world, how Chinese students are going through their studies at university, how he successfully bound with the students and remained in contact with many. It gives a good picture of the Chinese universities from the inside. He shows how a foreign teacher, not speaking Chinese, navigated the universities and their administration all over China, successfully.
It also gives a correct and detailed insight on how Chinese society functions, how young people think, study, marry and how they deal with their parents and in-laws.

Another interesting part tells the story what role some foreigners played during the early years of the People’s Republic of China, earning them the respect and honors from the government.

Mark could go through all his fascinating experiences with his limitless patience and jovial attitude.
For sure an interesting book by an insider!

Other books by Lijia Zhang

Where is “Socialism”?

Of the other books by Lijia Zhang I should mention her first book “Socialism Is Great!” A worker’s Memoir Of The New China.

Well yes, found it back in my library and to my great shame I somehow never read up. It will be my next reading… Worse, I am not sure when I actually bought the book… Shame…

A new book is out

“China Remembers” is an oral history book of China’s first 50 years that Lijia Zhang co-authored with Calum MacLeod. A Germany based publisher has just published it as an e-book. See the link below.



People say that to understand China, you need to understand its past.
Her introduction of the book:

The PRC’s first 50 years, told through extraordinary personal journeys
Making history not only comprehensible, but also a reading experience that gets under the skin: this is the art that the two authors Zhang Lijia and Calum MacLeod have mastered impressively. China Remembers recounts the first fifty years of the People’s Republic of China (1949-1999) in 33 interviews with contemporary witnesses from all walks of life: From the founding of the state by Mao Zedong and the mass movements of the 1950s and 1960s to Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening policy and China’s rise to become a great economic power in the 1990s. Each of the historical sections as well as each individual interview is expertly introduced, and so one does not have to be a an expert on China to follow the moving memories of the interviewees, who include soldiers, farmers, street vendors, priests, teachers, singers, interpreters, business people, architects, refuse collectors and many other professions.

China Remembers offers authentic voices of a group of remarkable raconteurs for those who are willing to listen as well as for those whose ears are attuned to subtle cultural messages from the ancient and ever vibrant civilization. (Du Weiming, Professor Emeritus of Asia Center, Harvard University)

Lotus by Lijia Zhang

China Culture Center

On 15 April 2017 I joined the book talk “Lotus by Lijia Zhang” organized by the China Culture Center. I was very much attracted by the title “China’s underground sex industry” as I know quite a bit myself about the topic. I was a bit surprised Ms. Zhang Lijia (as I prefer to call her) could publish a book about it and freely talk about this sensitive topic. The event was well organized, small crowd but just right to have a proper Q&A.
I was certainly not disappointed and gladly bought her book that she kindly signed.

More about her:

My take on Lotus by Lijia Zhang

After so many years I finally read the book. Yes it is a novel and I was fascinated till the end as I was eager to know how the story would end. (I won’t tell you!)

The book is one of those that discourage me. Being a writer myself and vaguely planning to write a kind of novel/love story, I feel so poorly able to write anything after reading Lotus. Yes, it it took her some twelve years to write the novel. But how she could develop the story with all the details fascinates me and leaves me with a sense of helplessness. There are many details in the story that sound very familiar to me so I can say she knows what she is talking about. Contrary to what other book reviews may say, see further, the depiction of the individuals is pretty realistic, the way they act and feel. That is how many Chinese really are. As mentioned in SCMP: “Male sexuality in the novel is either brutish or monkish. This may be a function of the setting, but in a novel of sexual empathy, this feels like a structural flaw.” I tend to disagree because I see it the same way as the author. Many aspects of the attitudes of the people depicted are very realistic. That is how some segments of Chinese society are.
In other words, a thumbs up for the book. Great stuff, at times I felt emotional as some scenes seemed all too familiar.

See here the book review done by South China Morning Post, in the PDF you find the link to the original article: 170104 LotusSCMP
So I do not fully agree with the review.

The author has been touring around the world to promote her book and it is now published in several languages.


See here some pics from her visit earlier this year to Vilnius to launch the Lithuanian version.

French minister Elisabeth Borne

TV5 and Le Monde

Saw this interview on TV5 with French minister Elisabeth Borne talking about environmental issues, overconsumption and the need to have after-sales repair in place for our consumer goods, among other striking opinions. It sounded like reading straight from my book Toxic Capitalism


Pity I did not watch the complete interview on 27 January (in my Beijing home) but it was striking as she was exactly talking the same language as me. I am happy a minister has the same philosophy.
I wish people would listen to her.
In my third book I am working on, those ideas will be again occupy a central role.

Minister of ?

She is Minister of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, see

Her title in French: Ministre française de la Transition écologique et solidaire. You have to admit, a weird title… They could not find anything more elegant?


Promoting my books

Writing is the easiest part

Like I said, there are 3 steps for your book: 1. writing 2. publishing 3. selling. The hardest is indeed SELLING and promoting the books. I am still battling with the issue. My weak point is the diversity of the subjects… not a single genre.

RIP The Bookworm

In Beijing I am also the victim as many others by the closing of The Bookworm where my books were being sold. As a result, I am now the only source for the printed version, here in Beijing.

Reports the SCMP:
The Bookworm, a center of literary life in Beijing, to close, unable to renew its lease amid crackdown on ‘illegal structures’. A cafe, a community center, a place for lively discussion and for authors to meet their readers, The Bookworm has survived for 17 years in the Chinese capital. Co-founder says it is a victim of clean-up by city planners, and won’t speculate on a political motive; patrons take to social media to voice their sadness,

Friends and media don’t help

One disappointment is that people ask for help about many things but none help out for the promotion of the books. That is a fact.
Being on the media like Twitter, Facebook, name it: seems pretty useless. I don’t think I sold ANY book thanks to those media. Harsh reality.
Interviews in newspapers and TV also seem to be pretty useless. Actually David Caughran also brings this up in his books on publishing.
Of course I get mails about people who promise “to promote you book to become a bestseller”. Yeah, nice try, and they are not cheap (but mostly useless).
I found that personal contact and book talks help most.

Giving free copies

I often give free copies to “important people”, some actually insist on paying, being a nice gesture (e.g. our very Belgian ambassador).
Also at times frustrating as there is little or no feedback and some ambassadors even don’t invite me for any activity in their embassy despite my efforts.

Of course it looks nice to be able to officially hand over a copy. Some examples:

– former U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, on 6 November 2012, see

– former Israeli Ambassador Matan Vilnai, on 17 December 2012, see

– former Canadian Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques, on 18 March 2015, see

– Jan Jambon, then former deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and Security (Belgium), see:

– Belgian Ambassador Marc Vinck on 13 March 2019

– Luxembourg Ambassador Dr. Marc Hübsch, on 4 July 2019

– Irish Ambassador Eoin O’Leary, on 20 June 2018; later he also got a copy of my book Laugh and Get Wiser

– Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union, Nicolas Chapuis, on 4 March 2019

See the pictures: