China Beat Archive



Peter Hessler

Date of this Version


Document Type



May 20, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright May 20, 2008 Peter Hessler. Used by permission.


On May 13th, I filed a web report on the New Yorker’s site, based on what I heard from former students in the early days of the disaster. Since then, I’ve continued to receive notes, and I’ve copied a few below.

When I lived in Sichuan, I was most impressed by the sense of place. The landscape was rugged and beautiful, and the people had a distinct character. They seemed more emotional than in other parts of China; they laughed more freely and their street arguments were more vicious. It wasn’t any surprise that in 1999, after NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, the most violent protests occurred in Chengdu. People sometimes blame it on the spicy food, which seems a shallow explanation. I sensed it had something to with the land itself—so many mountains and rivers, so many people. Emotions have always moved fast in Sichuan, and over the past week they’ve moved even faster.