Looking to rectify the lack of writing in English about rural China for a general audience, Michael Meyer, author of The Last Days of Old Beijing and the new book In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, went to live in a village in Dongbei (Northeast China) literally named “Wasteland” (大荒地村), possibly so grimly named as a “ploy by homesteaders to discourage other migrants from moving to this fertile floodplain”, to research this transitioning part China. He planned to stay for one year, but the wealth of experience in this area previously and evocatively known as “Manchuria” necessitated staying for three.
On February 18, ChinaFile and the New York Review of Books host Meyer and writer and noted intellectual Ian Buruma (Year Zero: A History of 1945) to talk about this “historically complex and important” region of China.
From the program description:
“In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China combines immersion journalism, memoir, exhaustive historical research, and a love story to create a portrait of the momentous changes underway in China’s often-overlooked countryside. [Meyer] spent three years in a rice-farming village, hometown to his wife’s family, recording the rhythms of daily life, as the villagers make the transition from family farming to corporate agriculture. But he also traverses China’s northeast, searching for traces its lost history, probing the legacy of its multiple foreign occupations, and capturing its aspirations for the future, with insight and great heart.”
For a preview of the book, take a look at this excerpt.
ChinaFile also published two engaging essays adapted from early drafts of the book. In “Desperately Seeking Harbin”, Meyer’s visit the International Sister City Museum in Harbin explores the peculiar institution that is the sister city and considers how the museum reflects some aspects of China’s world view. “The Lesser Wall” is history lesson of the region through the remnants of a barrier known as the “Willow Palisade” in the Manchu language and “柳条边 /柳條邊” in Chinese that was once worthy of a poem of the Qianlong Emperor (乾隆帝).
In this video from around the time the essays were published, Meyer talks about the project:
Wednesday, February 18, 6:30 PM
Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue
$10/non-members; $5/Asia Society members, students & seniors