Looking for Chengdu: A Woman's Adventures in China

Looking for Chengdu: A Woman's Adventures in China

Looking for Chengdu: A Woman's Adventures in China

Looking for Chengdu: A Woman's Adventures in China


In the 1980s, anthropologist Hill Gates set out on an excursion to Sichuan Province, the first of many visits she would make to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese women. This is her memoir of her travels by boat, train, bus, car, bicycle and foot, across the countryside into Chinese society.


Anthropology is an exhilarating vocation, if an exhausting one. Living in Taiwan and China, I eat extraordinarily well, meet marvelous, unlikely people, and shop for silk socks or dogskin blankets, accumulating weight, good karma, and exotic soft furnishings along with serious research notes. Contrapuntally, I lose sleep, illusions, and all track of American time. Fieldwork is important to an anthropologist, though not its ultimate goal. I work hard at it, interviewing until my assistants plead for holidays; expanding the day’s scribbled notes on my laptop every night; pestering bureaucrats to give me a longer investigative leash.

But Chinese evenings spent far from the big cities of the coast are long, especially if one fails to find much joy in tv, dance halls, or low-stakes gambling. I wrote this journal on those nights—to push back loneliness, but also from the narcissism all journal-keepers share. Choosing words to fix the minutiae of my days promises insightful distance, a chance to better see myself as I peer and pose and watch for sharks. Only some years after I had begun this after-hours writing did I squarely face that I might be writing for other readers as well. Would those readers be as charmed as I with my supple honesty, my wise perceptions?

Of course not. They would want to learn about China, which they know both exists and matters in this world, not about the mid-life crisis of a jumpy unknown lady don.

Can one write a book about one’s self as that self urgently seeks to understand China without including something useful about the Chinese themselves, if only as a byproduct? the layperson might think not. As a hardened professional, I assure you that it can be done. in recent years, some . . .

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