Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip. I am responsible for reporting on the first half of Book 1: The Wall, in which Hessler delivers an
unique engaging perspective on China culture along his road trip. [tighten prose – “unique” merely says he didn’t plagiarize, and “road trip” is redundant.]
Each of his encounters provides a different insight into Chinese culture. Zhang Baolong tells of the fung shui profession and its cultural importance. Mr. Wang educates Hessler on the practical knowledge necessary to operate a vehicle in urban areas. Old Chen provides ancient lore on obscure ruins in a small village. Gao Lingfeng, garbed sophisticatedly and carrying a sack of meat, catches a ride along Hessler’s trek. Each person is a piece of a puzzle that provides a broader picture of the Chinese community.
Two sentences in particular resonated with me after completed this section of the book, the first being: “One of the basic truths is that forgiveness comes easier than permission.” The reason why this struck me is because it is seemingly the inverse of the United States and perhaps western culture at large.
The second sentence that stood out is as follows: “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” This expression is a colloquialism in rural China, and it represents the disconnect between the proletariat and the politician, the poor and the rich. It gets at the inefficiency of the government’s micromanagement. The exemplar story is the story of the Dingjia village laborers. The villagers dig holes for food, five bowls of noodles daily to be precise; yet, the holes they dig are not put to any use. Local officials are supposed to plant trees in the holes, but they supposedly embezzle the money instead. While the endeavor is fairly sound, the execution is not.
So far on Hessler’s journey, the remote areas of China along the Wall suggests that the rural life of a Chinese layman is not easy and not always fair.