Chengdon’t: two ghastly books about living in Chengdu that you can skip in good conscience.

The 81st World Science Fiction Convention opens in Chengdu a month from tomorrow, and I’ve been looking for books about the city to set the scene. A couple that I saw on Amazon looked cheap and interesting and I bought them without too much investigation. Both are memoirs by Americans about their time teaching in Chengdu. Both are, frankly, terrible.

Dispatches from Chengdu, by Abdiel LeRoy, is a consolidation of his emailed newsletters home to friends and family from 2005. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

In China, foreign visitors are relentlessly assaulted with bizarre arrangements of English words—symptomatic of a country growing faster than its competence. Among my favorites was a sign above a men’s room saying, ‘Toilet of Man’. More recently, I came across this promotional copy from a bed manufacturer: “Whenever the time that night come, grow to have the Yalisi mattress sweet concomitant, let you fallen asleep safely in the quite night [sic].”

I am afraid this is symptomatic. The author wanders through Chengdu (and in later books, other parts of China) getting fired from teaching jobs because he is basically an asshole with no self-awareness, and zero empathy for the culture in which he has chosen to embed himself. Its only merit is that it is quite short.

Charmed in Chengdu, by Michael O’Neal, dates from a few years later, 2012-13. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

“Michael, what will you do tomorrow? We’d like to take you into town!”

This is actually even worse; the books starts by mocking the stewardesses on his flight to China from Seattle for the crime of being over 50, and continues in the nastiest possible tone of snide at the country and the people he meets and teaches. I couldn’t finish it.

Sometimes when people show you who they are, you should believe them, and these two authors show rather more of who they are than I wanted to see. I’m not going to do my usual trick of supplying links to buy these books, because I don’t encourage anyone to buy them.

I do have three other books set in Chengdu on my shelf, all by Chinese writers, which I think will make a difference. Two are the first two books in a promised crime trilogy, Death Notice and Fate by Zhou Haohui; the other is Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, by Murong Xuecun. I’m not sure if I will get to writing them up here before Chengdu Worldcon, but I’m totally sure that they will be a lot better than either of these offensive piles of rubbish.

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