Imperial Valley Press

When the newspaper arrives…

- RICHARD RYAN Richard Ryan lives in El Centro and welcomes your comments at rryan@sdsu.edu

Ibegan reading an Inspector Chen novel, “Death of a Red Heroine,” some weeks ago. Out of a list of recommende­d Asian crime fiction, it was a lucky choice. It’s a perfect book for me since I wanted to learn more about China’s contempora­ry culture and politics. Plus, the author, Qiu Xiaolong writes very well. The setting of the book is in the early 1990s in Shanghai, now the largest city in the world at 25 million. I grew up in a city of 9 million so it challenges the imaginatio­n to think of a city almost three times as large.

In the novel, inspector Chen was appointed to the police force because of his high academic honors. But as a poet and student of classical Chinese literature? At that time, the government assigned people to jobs, careers and cities or towns where they would live. Housing was also assigned. But with much of the command economy being replaced by capitalism and a market economy, so many things have changed. People flock to Shanghai from rural areas to make money. The Chinese have always been good merchants. Now they are operating on a global scale, and the size of the population makes China a powerful world player. Just ask the man in the White House.

I mentioned this book to a Chinese friend of mine, and she speculated, accurately, that it is banned in China. It’s too critical of the out-offashion Cultural Revolution of Mao, and Inspector Chen holds a skeptical opinion of the Communist Party. I enjoy the character. He quotes Confucius and classical Chinese poets he studied in school while he tries to figure out who murdered a beautiful woman who was considered a model worker by the Communist Party. As the Chinese economy grows, he finds it difficult to get by on his meager policeman’s salary. He frequently takes a city bus to interview suspects or others who might shed light on the murder.

I, too, will likely be riding a bus or subway in Shanghai in June. This is very exciting. Maybe unnerving. When you get today’s newspaper, I will be somewhere over the Pacific flying to China. If all goes well, I will be on my way to Xiamen, China. For more than a half-dozen years, San Diego State University, Calexico, has been hosting Chinese language and culture teachers from the Confucius Institute. Chinese teachers serve for a year and a half or more teaching Mandarin, Chinese culture, and tai chi. A very special professor at SDSU, Jeanette Shumaker, makes it a point of introducin­g the visiting Confucius Institute teachers to the faculty and staff and helping them figure out the menu at D’Poly. I would never have imagined that Chinese visitors would love tacos and burritos, but, indeed, they do.

Over the years, my dear wife and I have hosted dinners and outings for the visiting Chinese teachers. Hey, the Imperial Valley Winter Expo is almost as much fun as Disneyland when you come from the other side of the world. Almost. So, too, are the foods we serve for Thanksgivi­ng Day. So I am taking advantage of our contacts, several of whom live in Xiamen, the home of Xiamen University. They will introduce me to their fair city by the ocean and insure that I don’t get into too much trouble.

Why am I going now? For several reasons. First, I won’t be any younger next year. Second, Michael Wood, whose, “The Story of China,” is being shown on PBS remarked that while you might have objections to Chinese government policies, you have to go to see the phenomenal changes in China. And, lastly, and most importantl­y, we still have good friends there. They will guide me around Xiamen. In Shanghai, I may have to look up Inspector Chen.

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