The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A journalist travels throughout mainland China and Taiwan in search of his family’s hidden treasure and comes to understand his ancestry as he never has before.
In 1938, when the Japanese arrived in Huan Hsu’s great-great-grandfather Liu’s Yangtze River hometown of Xingang, Liu was forced to bury his valuables, including a vast collection of prized antique porcelain, and undertake a decades-long trek that would splinter the family over thousands of miles. Many years and upheavals later, Hsu, raised in Salt Lake City and armed only with curiosity, moves to China to work in his uncle’s semiconductor chip business. Once there, a conversation with his grandmother, his last living link to dynastic China, ignites a desire to learn more about not only his lost ancestral heirlooms but also porcelain itself. Mastering the language enough to venture into the countryside, Hsu sets out to separate the layers of fact and fiction that have obscured both China and his heritage and finally complete his family’s long march back home.
Melding memoir, travelogue, and social and political history, The Porcelain Thief offers an intimate and unforgettable way to understand the complicated events that have defined China over the past two hundred years and provides a revealing, lively perspective on contemporary Chinese society from the point of view of a Chinese American coming to terms with his hyphenated identity.
movement, la duzhi means “pull stomach,” which described my condition and, no less accurately, the sensation of having my stomach pulled out of me every time I went to the bathroom. Once the fever subsided, the stomach cramps continued, feeling as if my intestines were being wrung out like a towel. Andrew didn’t believe me. “You’re weak,” he declared. “I think you like this.” I recovered in time to start work. My uncle’s company was one of the Zhangjiang technology park’s anchor tenants, a dozen
age, was inexplicably taken with Heshen and showered him with affection and confidence, especially when Heshen’s son married one of Qianlong’s favorite daughters. Whatever the case, Heshen took full advantage of his lofty perch. He filled the bureaucracy with family members and henchmen, and they stole and extorted public funds on a grand scale for more than two decades. Although Heshen’s clique was not the only corrupt one, it was one of the most powerful and, because of his most-favored status
Yi shrugged. San Yi Po leaned toward me. “There was a set of bowls, let me tell you, they were like glass, they were so thin and transparent,” she said. “These bowls, you couldn’t stack them or they’d break. They all had imperial seals on the bottom.” “Do you know what happened to all the porcelain?” I asked. “The first time, when we returned from Chongqing, there was a portion of our things left,” San Yi Po said. “The good porcelain, the furniture, most of that was gone. The second time, after
ports closed. My grandparents, their three children, and Chang Guo Liang arrived in Shanghai in the middle of winter and moved into a ramshackle dormitory made of bamboo and mud near the pier in Wusong, the site of China’s first railway. Much of the mud had fallen off, and when the wind blew, snowflakes swirled in their room. Without running water or a stove, Chang Guo Liang trudged thirty minutes past frozen ponds and streams and dead automobiles to fetch hot water, his hands numb despite
stretched along the trench. The sun had settled at a languid position in the sky, dimming its heat, and residents had emerged from their shady refuges. Dozens of men, women, and children stood in the ditches, chipping away at the walls with hand tools. Others clutched old rice sacks and walked meandering search patterns over the removed soil. I went over to see what they were doing and realized that the soil was studded with blue and white shards, and the walls of the trench were composed of