The Book of the Week is “Iron and Silk” by Mark Salzman, published in 1986. This short paperback reveals the culture of Changsha, capital of Hunan province in China, in the early 1980’s through the eyes of the then-22 year old American author.
Salzman traveled to the city of Changsha, population approximately one million, to teach English for two years, beginning in the summer of 1982. Living conditions were primitive, as were the educational resources for the author’s students (aspiring doctors) where he taught– Hunan Medical College.
The author’s boss, who roomed with her housekeeper, lived in a tiny, un-air-conditioned apartment with bare cement walls and floors, and one bare light bulb per room. She behaved like a mother-figure toward him, critiquing his behavior and clothing.
The school had only one copy machine and only one individual was empowered to use it; in his absence, documents were hand-written over again. The absence of telephones meant people visited each other personally anytime.
Read the book to learn more about the author’s adventures with Chinese bureaucracy, censorship, and how he sharpened his martial arts and calligraphy skills during his teaching stint.