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Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones

Peter Hessler

I very much enjoyed and learned from Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones. Here are excerpts from his book with my comments. I recommend reading the book.

You Can’t Control My Life

Peter Hessler profiles a modern Chinese writer filled with contradictions. Miao Yong believes that blood type determines character, money is the medium of exchange for all personal matters, and Chinese collectivism is of the past because today’s youth decide what kind of person they want to be. How can the latter be true if blood type determines character and access to money determines all personal matters? Miao Yong makes sense to her modern Chinese readers.

Americans & Chinese Narratives Smooth Over Irregularities

Hessler writes:

Later that same month, the American deputy secretary of state, Richard L. Armitage would visit Beijing and announce that the United States had named the Uighur group known as ETIM as an enemy in the war on terror. Many analysts would criticize the decision, believing that it gave the Chinese more license to oppress native groups in Xinjiang. But the United States needed to prepare for the debate on Iraq in the United Nations, where China held a permanent seat on the Security Council.


A common United States tactic had been to encourage ethnic or religious groups that resisted bigger powers like the Russians and Chinese. Once the geopolitics shifted, the supported ended. And the resistance groups were forgotten.

The American government portrays itself as operating to a high standard of respect for independence and human rights, but its actions pursue a policy of security first.

Fox News – Fair and Balanced to the Government in Power

On September 11, 2001, Rupert Murdock owned 40% of Phoenix, a TV news network in China. Phoenix TV broadcast days of reports on 9/11 using American Fox footage. The Phoenix broadcasts portrayed America as deserving what happened and showed that America was a bully deserving this punishment. As Hessler observes, Phoenix network was more patriotic than the Chinese State TV stations.

Writing Style

Hessler’s advice on writing: Write about interesting people, ideas, and places. Recognized the writer is a censor, writing about what will remain in our awareness after the event is gone. Good writing is done with authenticity and directness.

A Prolific Character in Modern China

[Pull down, dismantle]

Shang Dynasty’s Oracle Bones

Hessler concludes Oracle Bones observing that the Shang Dynasty’s oracle bones provides the notes to study their civilization, but we must provide the music. This theme completes his narrative. He provides us with notes about modern China, but we must provide the music to understand what China is bringing into our world. Hessler warns us the writer is a censor. By paying attention to the people, ideas, and events clipped and organized from current events, we can see the notes we need to understand what is happening in China.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Popcorn on the Ginza by Lucy Herndon Crockett « georgereads

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