I consider myself a life long learner and in the last few years I’ve tried to focus my reading and other educational activities around topics that I felt I didn’t know enough about.
China is one of the topics to which I’ve dedicated myself, in part due to how important the future of this country is to the future of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Even after having read several books on China’s past and present, I realize that there’s always more to learn because China is such a huge and complex country. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity of reading Street Of Eternal Happiness, to continue expanding my knowledge.
Street Of Eternal Happiness by Rob Schmitz
Published: June 2016
The author, Rob Schmitz is an award-winning journalist who has lived many years of his life in China as both a teacher for the Peace Corps and currently in Shanghai as China’s correspondent for Marketplace.
For this book, Schmitz focuses on a single street in Shanghai on which he lives, whose Chinese name roughly translates to Street Of Eternal Happiness.
What I enjoyed most about the book was the writing style. Schmitz brought the characters and settings to life so that you felt you were actually experiencing Chinese life along with him. This work of expert journalistic investigation read like a transporting novel through the author’s skillful writing.
Along the Street Of Eternal Happiness, Schmitz introduces the reader to a varied cast of characters that each reveals an aspect of China’s past, its present and its future.
Zhao is a friendly florist who originated in a small rural town and came to Shanghai as a factory worker to build a better future for her sons. Like others, she struggles with China’s hukou system which assigns residence to each of its citizens, forbidding Zhao’s sons from being able to continue their education in Shanghai.
Auntie Fu and Uncle Feng are a couple nearing retirement that Schmitz meets when he stops at the snack shop that Uncle Feng runs out of their apartment kitchen. A comedy of opposites, Uncle Feng is constantly fighting with his wife due to the money she spends on harebrained investment schemes she gets pulled into, designed to take advantage of other elderly people like her.
CK is a young man who runs a successful accordion sales business but is determined to expand his entrepreneurship to neighborhood cafe Second Floor. After living a life excess in drink, drugs, night life and girls for several years, CK comes to a personal religious conversion and begins to attend a Buddhist temple outside of the city.
With these and other characters, Schmitz does more than just interview. He ends up immersing himself in their lives and becoming their friend and advisor. He has the privilege of being invited to family weddings, church outings, and even investment scheme presentations, revealing more and more hidden aspects of modern Chinese culture as he tags along.
What results is a portrait of China as a country of contradictions, with a Communist past but now haltingly embracing its own form of capitalism, having suffered a recent famine in which many died but now grappling with burgeoning economic growth, with historical traditions like an established respect for parents and elders being supplanted by modern realities. If you’re looking for an interesting snapshot of modern Chinese life that is contextualized in Chinese historical, economic and social trends, Street Of Eternal Happiness is an ideal place to start.
I should mention I received this book for free from Blogging For Books (disclaimer below) but I have a policy of not requesting books I’m not looking forward to reading anyways – and this turned out to be a great pick.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
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