Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Camphor Press Launches with John Ross' You Don't Know China

You Don't Know China: Twenty-Two Enduring Myths Debunked
John Ross
Camphor Press. $180 NT

This month I have the truly great pleasure to introduce to you a new Taiwan-centered publishing house, Camphor Press (Facebook, Camphorpress.com). The new publisher is run by a trio of well-known local expats, Michael Cannings, Mark Swofford, and John Ross, and will feature books about Taiwan and China. They sent me a copy of their first book, John Ross' You Don't Know China: Twenty-Two Enduring Myths Debunked. Readers may be familiar with Ross via his earlier and excellent book, Formosan Odyssey, which Camphor is selling at only 90 NT til the end of February. Books are available in .mobi and .epub format -- if you have some other device, the popular freeware Calibre easily converts between formats. Full disclosure: the copy was sent gratis and they want me to write a book with them.

Nevertheless, I can wholeheartedly say that You Don't Know China kicks ass. It is both extremely witty and extremely informative, a joy to experience. Ross savages some of the most popular claims about China, from the "5,000 years of history" to the "no dogs and Chinese" myth. He takes the media to task for credulous and incompetent reporting on China in chapters on ghost towns and megacities, and mops up the floor with "traditional" Chinese medicine. Ross' skeptical mind is like a blowtorch, illuminating before destroying. On the Great Wall:
"The most outlandish Great Wall myth is that is the only man-made object that can be seen from space or, even more farcically, from the Moon. Its width -- the famous sections you've seen are about 6 metres wide, 8 metres high -- makes this an absurd impossibility. The dimension the wall is renowned for, the great length, is irrelevant to its visibility. Seeing the wall from the Moon (384,400 kilometres away) would be a feat of vision equivalent to seeing a single strand of human hair from over three kilometres away. As if this were not enough, the wall is of a colour similar to the surrounding earth."
In addition to education, Ross also supplies chuckles. On Mandarin:
"As well as being hard for learners to distinguish, tones are hard for foreigners not to murder when they speak the language. So, what does mangled Mandarin sound like to the Chinese? A slow moronic monotone, something like a wasted California surfer dude would sound like to English speakers."
The chapter on acupuncture alone, which provides a concise and for me, totally unknown history of the practice, is worth the price of admission. No, I'm not spoiling it. Also especially enjoyable for me were the parts on Marco Polo, feng shui, and opium.

Accessible and entertaining, You Don't Know China will scrub your brain of Orientalist nonsense in a few hours of informative and pleasurable reading. Of interest to students of modern China, Chinese history, and skeptics alike, it is well worth the $180 NT.

I am looking forward to the next releases. If they are of the quality of this work, Camphor Press will have bright future!
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5 comments:

Formosa Coweater said...

Thanks for mentioning this. I really enjoyed Formosan Odyssey and will definitely look for this new one.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

5000 years of history, but Chinese/Taiwanese still must throw their filthy buttwipes in a open garbage can...



Anyway, thanks for the heads up, I too will definitely check out those books.

Whirled Peas said...

Thank you for recommending You Don't Know China. I just bought it and look forward to reading it.

Wandering Wildman said...

I'm looking forward to these book releases myself!