This year, Chinese New Year landed on February 16th. When I heard this I thought to myself:
What does that mean exactly?
I realized, in a moment of panic, that I don't know much about China!
I ate a meal in the Hong Kong Airport once (shrug) and I have visited a Chinese New Year parade.
The beautiful New Year parade, complete with giant dragons and colorful paper confetti that will turn a sidewalk into a field of flowers.
Being familiar with a giant parade DOES NOT mean I know anything about the culture. I am actually kind of ashamed at my lack of knowledge about China.
Last month, I talked about how important it was to be informed and how I was trying to learn about other cultures. While thinking about Chinese New Year I took the opportunity to explore some literature about China.
WOW! THERE IS A LOT TO LEARN!!
The history is vast and exciting. The culture and customs of China are incredibly complex. I am NOT saying that reading a few books has made me an expert. However, through these books I am developing an awareness. I gained access to stories that I have never considered and that is really cool.
China A to Z by May-lee Chai and Winberg Chai was the prefect beginning to this journey. This terrific book is sectioned alphabetically: Animals, Architecture, Family, History, Martial Arts, Religion, etc. dedicating a few pages to each topic all the way to Z. It is a book you can pick up and flip through or sit with and really get a taste for the culture of China. This book is super accessible and fun to read. I LEARNED A TON! I will be buying a copy of this book for my personal collection.
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is Lisa See's bestseller that also has a movie adaptation . It is a historical novelization of women living in nineteenth-century China. During this period in history, women in China were forced to bind their feet in order to bring honor to their families. I had known about foot binding but this novel was a detailed and beautifully written story about the friendship between two women (where woman were often only allowed to socialize with their in-laws), arranged marriages, and a woman's role in ancient China. This story was incredibly moving.
Another incredible novel is Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You. NG's current novel is All the Little Fires which is a best seller and for good reason! Every bit of attention is rightly earned for Ng's writing is captivating and she artistically grabs the reader with her opening sentences. At the core Everything I Never Told You it is a murder mystery, but it is also a wonderfully crafted portrait of a Chinese American Family, in 1970, in small town Ohio. Yikes, is it a page turner!
Not quite a graphic novel, The Zodiac Legacy is a collaboration between three incredibly creative people including Stan Lee himself. This book takes place in China and is PERFECT if you like super heroes and magical stories filled with strong and brave teens. While the artwork is lovely, I didn't love the story because I don't tend to read fantasy.
American Born Chinese is an award winning graphic novel. This book is heartbreaking and heavy. It takes common racial stereotypes and starkly illustrates them, forcing you to look. The story is poetic and I was left wondering who this book is for. Teens I suspect, but everyone should read this short novel. The main character, Jin Wang, is the son of Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco. His struggles with racism in a suburban high school are told parallel to stories of racism and Chinese folklore. It is a quick read and an eye opening experience. I highly recommend this book!
Grace Lin has quite a few books that describe specific holidays and customs practiced in China. The illustrations are bold and fun. I read these to my son but admittedly, I learned a lot too.
A New Literary History of Modern China is an enormous book but it has to be! This beauty is a collection of stories, speeches, song lyrics and writings from the seventeenth century all the way to present. These are beautiful accounts and examples of China's complex history. I did not read this book cover to cover. In the few hours I spent with this book, it made me want to return to school and study Chinese literature. How complex and beautiful the pieces I read were!
Overall, I still feel like I don't know much about China and it makes me wonder if you can ever truly appreciate or consume something that is so foreign to you. A few of these books were so removed from what I usually read that it seemed almost inaccessible. Not because they were about China necessarily, but because of the writing style. However that didn't stop me from trying.
Something I have taken from this experience is, if you really don't know about a culture it may be better to start with books aimed towards younger audiences. The YA selection was the most helpful in learning about China while with the novels and the collection I was more drawn to the style of writing.
YA is such a colorful genre these days and let's face it, we should all be reading it.
As for Chinese New Year?
What I understand is that every Year is represented by a different animal and 2018 is the year of the Dog. From what I have read, people born in the year of the dog are loyal and make great friends. They may suffer from some anxiety but put on a good show. You know, like our favorite droopy eared friends. There will be some nervous energy this year but every bit of hard work will be awarded... with cookies. Just kidding! But a good book from the library is always a treat, am I right?
Thanks for checking in.
Next Month: Gardens