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.

Wish Lanterns and China Underground

Alec Ash in Rotary

I bought Alec’s book during his talk in our Rotary Club of Beijing. The books Wish Lanterns and China Underground have a lot in common.
On 17 October 2017 we had the pleasure to have Alec Ash in our club to introduce his book Wish Lanterns. See the pictures of that lunch and of the copy I bought.

This is how he was introduced:
Alec Ash, author of Wish Lanterns, a nonfiction book that follows six young Chinese from childhood to late twenties, shares some of his insights about the generational trends shaping young China today, and how it connects to China’s historical legacy of youth and change.

Alec Ash is a writer in Beijing, author of Wish Lanterns, published by Picador in 2016 and a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. He studied English literature at Oxford University, and first moved to Beijing in 2008. His articles have appeared in The Economist, Dissent, The Sunday Times, Foreign Policy and elsewhere. He is managing editor of the China Channel at the Los Angeles Review of Books, contributing author to the book of reportage Chinese Characters and co-editor of the anthology While We’re Here. You can follow him on Twitter: @alecash

He leaves me frustrated

Indeed, I started writing about contemporary Chinese society time ago, a project I abandoned, see:

I am in the process of writing my next book (a political manifesto) but also gathering data for a book about “China today”, or something like that. But reading Alec’s book I feel, how can I “compete” against that?
I admire the way he could make it sound like a novel, but filled with so many contemporary issues that Chinese society is facing. Many of the details he mentions are too familiar to me. And believe me, he is accurate. I wonder how he managed to get and remember so many details from the young people he met, followed and interviewed.
The only criticism I could have is that the different stories are “all mixed up” in the sequence. But I guess that comes from the fact I took a too long time to finish the book… I actually I had to restart from the beginning…

So, a book I strongly recommend if one wants to understand where China stands today. Yes, life is not easy for the young generation

Zachary Mexico

Wish Lanterns and China Underground basically follow a similar approach, telling the stories of real people, the stories of the “real China”, but more focused on the fringes of society – reason for the title “China Underground”. I sadly forgot how and when I met the author.

Also here I can confirm the stories sound pretty genuine to me as I do go around a bit and go where other foreigners seldom appear (usually I keep my mouth shut about all that).


To be honest reading the books like Wish Lanterns and China Underground will teach you more about the real China than those ramblings from “sinologists” and “Old China Hands” (Zhongguo Tongs like they are being called). Reason why I refuse those titles…
In China you never stop learning.
So now my challenge is clear: what can I still write about?

Stress In The City

How it all started

When the author Enoch Li went through her depression, slowly the idea for her book “Stress In The City” was created.
See also my earlier post: 
Her earlier thoughts can be traced back on her blog: 
She explains her road to a complete breakdown:

“Beginning November 2009 I got physically ill, to the extent that I was in the hospital every 2-3 days, and all I could do was lie around at home with no energy to even read a book or watch TV. The pain in my head was excruciating, like a million jackhammers pounding on me.  Extending from the physical side of things, I spiraled down mentally and emotionally till I sunk into severe depression. For almost 3 years, I trudged through what seemed like never-ending darkness.

End of 2009, my body had enough, and everything exploded. I came to a complete breakdown.”

That let her to write an e-book “Pull yourself together – Bridging the communication gap between the depressed and those who love them.”
It is here available as a free download:

Enoch explains:

 “This inspiration for this free Ebook on depression came from the 1000+ comments to the post on our Founder’s blog, NochNoch, “10 things not to say to a depressed person”, she realized that there was a marked misunderstanding between the depressed and those who are not. Perhaps it was someone who wanted to help but did not know how, or depressed persons who could not communicate their lethargies to others. A rift ensued, fueling anger, frustration, and even hatred and despite. Having been on both sides, she decided to write about this, in the aim of elucidating her perspectives on how we could communicate with empathy and help those who needed it.”

See her blog for more details.

Reading Stress In The City

I read the book and found it fascinating. And I joked I was looking into dogerapy as an alternative.

See here part of my personal comments (edited) I sent to her:

– Your description – brutally honest – of your misery during your depression, and how you slowly came out of it, is in my opinion the best part of the book. It must give others more courage to admit, yes, this is also how they feel, they are not alone.
– Like you said, people often think getting out of the depression just needs some personal efforts, will power, blablabla. Of course that does not work.
– I was a bit “puzzled” on how, in the first part of the book, Tim does nearly not appear, me even wondering, was he with you? You were alone? The guy is an angel of patience. I would probably have given up. How did you two go through that long period? Was Tim just sharing the apartment with “a zombie”? How did he react when you were in this horrible state? That one side of the story bugged me.

Enoch replies

Her husband Tim was indeed an angel. helping her to go through it all:

“For most part it was self-loathing on my side and Tim just had to tolerate it. His biggest job was just to make sure I was alive. He would sometimes sit with me when I cried or howled or stomped in tantrums, sometimes he held me, sometimes he just was there and that was enough. He was the one who dragged me to the doctor’s, who called the taxi in the winter and drove me to ER. He was always on alert in case I called him or he had to call and check on me.”

This article talks a bit more about his experience:
“World Mental Health Day 2018: how husband helped wife fight severe depression.”
9 October 2018 by Lise Floris
“Enoch Li was diagnosed with depression in 2009. Husband Tim Coghlan tells how, with his help and through therapy, she overcame it and the relapses that followed, and the impact her illness had on him.”
Read the full story:
(China: needs VPN…)