SATURDAY NIGHT IN BAODING: A China Memoir by Richard Terrill


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An uncommonly sensitive report from a young American seeking to ""fred"" himself abroad--in China. Counting himself a failure, unable to find a career path or satisfying relationships at home, Terrill takes a teaching job in China to think things over. Struggling with his own values, he is swept away by the virtues of his students, their physical beauty, intelligence, modesty, and diligence. He struggles to understand their apparent purity and sexual indifference, falls half in love with all the girls and yearns for them. But he cannot get any closer to them than he has to the girls at home; for one thing, he has promised, as part of his contract, not to become involved with any of them; for another, the Party bureaucracy frowns on Chinese intimacy with foreigners. But on Saturday nights, there is a regular dancing party for the students, and he can participate. It is here, mainly, that he sees them with their guards down. In the classroom, he is frustrated by their programmed responses to almost any assignment he gives them, by what always seems to him to be an irrelevant political lesson to be drawn, whether from a poem by Frost or a story by Cheever. And he is saddened at the rigid control over their lives exercised by Party functionaries. Regardless of their talents or accomplishments, they will, on graduation, be assigned jobs that separate them from families, friends, and fianc‚s. Terrill constantly reminds himself that being an outsider, with an inadequate language facility, he cannot make valid judgments on what he sees, and he is more wary than most reporters of the Chinese scene, knowing that while he rejects many of his own society's values, he carries many of them with him. But he records what he sees, feels with acuity, and is able to evoke the ambiance of the barren little North China town of Baoding and the sweet charm of his students. Whether, when his time is up, he has succeeded in finding himself is uncertain. More certain is that he has been bitten by the China bug and fallen in love with the people, but not with what he perceives to be their oppressive bureaucracy. Although writing before the events at Tianamen Square, Terrill illumines the frustrations of the students that led to the revolt, but timeliness is only incidental here to a vivid picture of the lives of young Chinese intellectuals, and the honestly revealed plight of a lonely, questing young man with a well-stocked mind, a compassionate heart, and a bright pen.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Univ. of Arkansas Press