Monday, February 11, 2008

Arrrgh! Who did I loan that book to?

Did you ever have a book you loaned out to someone, and you wanted to read it again and you just couldn’t remember who you loaned it to? I’ve done it lots of times. I love it when I think of a good person-book match. I want to pass along the pleasure of a good book. And I love it when people loan me a book they think I’ll like. Just so you don’t think I’m a saint, I’ve got a couple of them sitting reproachfully on my shelves right now.

I went to get The Slaves of the Cool Mountains off my shelf. Gone. Loaned out. Because I’m writing a book partially set in Vietnam, I’ve read lots of books about Vietnam and the surrounding area. Slaves was calling out to me for a reread. I even tried ABE books to buy another copy, but being a very old and very English book (published in 1959), it was hugely expensive.

It came back to me, miraculously – my father gave me a bag of books after clearing off a bookshelf, and there it was. I’d loaned it to him.

It had been his book before mine, and before him, it had been owned by Felix Greene. He must have been the first owner, because the author, Alan Winnington, inscribed it to him. Both Englishmen, reporting on the changes being made by Communists in China.

Slaves is Winnington’s travels into the mountainous southwest corner of China where the Norsu people were forced to free their slaves. He goes into amazing detail about the social conditions and the changes people were trying to absorb. Fascinating reading about a culture long since gone. Great black and white photos.

Try a library search. I’d love to have you read it!


Anonymous said...

Links Plus is the best! The book can be borrowed from San Diego State University, San Francisco State University and CSU East Bay.

"The ancient social conditions and changes now in progress on the remote South-Western borders of China 1959"

Will you tell us an short anecdote from the book?


Elizabeth Partridge said...

The bit I couldn't get out of my mind and kept coming back to was something about the slave owners bones being black. The owners consider their bones black like English gentry say their blood is blue. I'm really not sure if it is a more literal reference for the Norsu, even after rereading.

In Chinese medicine we refer frequently to bones. One of my favorites is "Steaming bone syndrome" where the patient feels like heat is coming out of their bones. (It's a complicated part of Chinese medicine to grasp, where the kidney yin energy is weak so the kidney yang becomes excessive and out of control, causing a sensation of heat, which is actually due to deficiency.)
Now that I've confused everybody...

Elizabeth Partridge said...

And anon, thanks for the Links Plus reference. It can be found on library websites. If they don't have the book you want, they'll check other libraries for it. My library does it at no charge.

Elizabeth Partridge said...

A really interesting part of this book in rereading is to read about slavery totally outside of our Western and American slavery. It's shocking in its nakedness, without the cultural references I'm used to.

How slaves have no rights at all to their kids. They can be given away, sold away at any time. So can a slave couple who have lived together for decades.

How they are Han Chinese, taken in raids. How they are used as breeders, as slaves are one of the most valuable "crops" an owner has. The social codes and slave owning codes are complex. Slaves can even own slaves.

And then I wonder: what happened to the slaves after they were freed in the late 1950s? Mao supplied them with basics at first. Rice, tools, pots, farm animals. But soon after they were freed, millions and millions of Chinese starved to death. How did the ex-slaves fare? Probably very poorly.

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Anonymous said...

Alan Winnington was my great Uncle - it's nice to find a fan!

Elizabeth Partridge said...

Amazing that you found this post. I presume you were googling your great uncle? I bet he was a really interesting man, and wrote a lot of other fascinating books. He was certainly very adventurous!

Anonymous said...

The comment: 'Alan Winnington was my great-uncle'. I'm writing a book on Western residents in China during the Mao era (1949-76) and have been doing some research on Alan Winnington. I wonder how you're related to Alan Winnington (through your father or mother?) -- and whether you have any contact with (or an address for) Alan Winnington's first wife (Esther Samson) who I think is still alive. My email address is
Many thanks,
Prof. Beverley Hooper
University of Sheffield