In Search of China by David Kellogg with Liv Foi and Tang Min. Edited by Dorothy Stein and Hilary Shipman, 18 Charlie Whelpton IN Search of China is a skilfully edited compilation of letters from an adventurous young American traveller who sets out to satisfy his ambition to discover China; and ends up so immersed in the development of this emerging nation that he can seemingly never leave.
Interspersed between this unending flow of correspondence are stories and sketches from young Chinese companions that Kellogg has faithfully narrated. These complement his writing attractively and provide interesting insight into the life of today's generation of Chinese youth.
Kellogg, who studied Chinese at the University of Chicago, is a man with a mission — to discover the real China and the real Chinese people. Initially the tone of the letters is brash and vulgar with glints of insight and talented descriptive narrative.
Borrowing a phrase from the author, his commentary "resembles a zig-zag drunkard's walk along a dizzying branching of roads." But as his infatuation VI I' 11 China develops so does his maturity and suddenly a sharp,
incisive and refreshing view of China emerges.
Kellogg arrives in China in 1984, the country at the crossroads of its development and its people confused and in turmoil. His early travels take him to traditional landmarks but as confidence grows he strays further and further afield to discover the remotest parts of this fascinating land. The writer has an enviable affinity with languages and his skill at conversing in different dialects enables him to explore deeper than even the most observant of travel writers.
Descriptions of the people, lifestyles and landscapes are illuminating but what really impresses from this book are the forays into folklore and superstition, culture and history. Throughout the book Kellogg relays the attitudes and feelings of the different people he encounters to the China in which they live. Few books on China can have achieved the variety of views and beliefs that this one has. Kellogg displays a thoughtful and analytical mind as he roams China in search of knowledge through experience.
To sustain himself he settles as a teacher at various establishments and curses the poverty of the educational system. His communist political leanings do not cloud his criticism of what is obviously an archaic and unnatural management of an enormous country.
Kellogg's recounting of life with the student population, a mixture of young and older Chinese, reveals the atmosphere of discontent and yearning for change. The China of 1984 is permeated by unrest and towards the end of the book the signs of agitation for change dramatically unfold into action.
The 1980s have been an uncomfortable decade for communism, nowhere more so than in China. But, while in Europe the concentration of popular demand has enforced change, in China the powers of the land have forcibly quashed the rebellious students, Kellogg leaves you with the impression that this may be only the beginning of a long struggle for change and real democracy. He describes in detail the events leading up to the occupation of Tianamen Square and recounts the reactions of Chinese students and teachers.
Kellogg is a young man with a pioneering spirit, unconventional and nonconformist but his mission brings real insight into what China is like in the 1980s escaping the propaganda so that the reader can formulate his own nicture.