The Porcelain Thief by Huan Hsu

This book was recommended to me by one of the people I meet occasionally in my China-related work. I have studied Chinese for over 30 years and have lived in the country from time to time. I found it interesting but it is a bit long and could have done with some firmer editing.

It is partly a memoir, partly a family history and partly a commentary on modern China. The last aspect is the most interesting, as the writer is an American-Chinese, with his family now divided between China and Taiwan. There is an excellent chapter when he writes about his first visits to mainland China. As an American of Chinese ancestry, he looks Chinese and, of course, feels Chinese, in many ways. So his disappointment at the discourtesy and public squalor of some parts of modern China was reassuring, for people like me who have had similar feelings and worry that we are being unsympathetic.

The details of his family history, including the escape to Taiwan, first from invading Japanese armies and then from the implacable Communists, are interesting. The reference to porcelain comes from the family’s store of imperial porcelain, collected over  many years and highly valued. It is a supposed buried selection of this porcelain that the writer tries to find. I won’t spoil the ending.



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