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Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman

Iron and Silk (1988)

by Mark Salzman

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Salzman gives an account of his character's travels through China, teaching and seeking better mastery of Chinese martial arts. ( )
  niquetteb | Aug 13, 2016 |
Salzman writes a compassionate and very humorous tale of his journey to China to English. Ostensibly an exploration of his mission to learn martial arts and calligraphy, it ends up being a study in how to keep our eyes open to enlightenment. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
From the back cover: The much-acclaimed adventures of a young martial arts master in China “take the form of a series of lightly sketched-in episodes; almost without exception, they produce the gulp of feeling you might get from an unusually fine short story, and they reverberate long after you have put them down.” (The New York Times)

My thoughts:
Salzman had been interested in China since the age of thirteen, when he’d first seen the television movie Kung Fu. He had studied kung fu, Chinese art and calligraphy. At Yale he majored in Chinese Literature. He wasn’t particularly interested in going to China, but he did need a job once he graduated and he was “fluent in Mandarin and nearly so in Cantonese,” so he applied for and was accepted by the Yale-China Association to teach English at Hunan Medical College in Changsha from August 1982 to July 1984. This is a memoir of his experiences while in China.

The book is told in a series of vignettes, and divided into sections. It begins with two episodes that bookend his tenure – arriving and leaving China. The rest of the memoir is roughly in chronological order (I think). Salzman is an astute observer and writes in a clear yet atmospheric way about his experiences. The various people he meets – professors, bureaucrats, fishermen, students – come to life as he describes their clothing, customs, habits, living conditions and demeanor. Much of the book focuses on his own efforts to expand his knowledge of martial arts, calligraphy and Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese and the local dialect). I was a little disappointed to not have more information about the classes he taught and the students he encountered, though there are a few scenes about those experiences.

The area of China Salzman lived in is still not often visited by Westerners. In the early 1980s few Chinese had themselves traveled beyond their own villages, let alone to other countries. Most of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner before, and many were stunned to silence on first seeing him. I’ve visited China a few times; my husband was in international business and traveled more extensively in the country than I have. Reading this memoir gave me a glimpse of China that I do not know. It’s an interesting book, though I cannot help but wonder how accurate the portrayal is today, given the Chinese government’s efforts to modernize.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman is Mark’s story of his time in China while teaching English. Mark spent 1982-1984 in Chang-sha, Hunan teaching at Hunan Medical College.

During his time there, Mark learned many Chinese techniques, such as multiple martial art forms as well as calligraphy. He tells his story in Iron & Silk through short vignettes of his experiences.

The cover of this book suffers from 1980s Disease (having been published in 1986), and looks like it would fit in perfectly in the intro to Saved by the Bell, but please, don’t judge this book by it’s tacky cover! After all, just think of what YOU looked like in the 80s!

For the full review, visit Love at First Book ( )
1 vote LoveAtFirstBook | Aug 8, 2013 |
I loved his Journey while he was in China! what a great experience it must have been!! ( )
  kcoleman428 | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0394755111, Paperback)

In 1982, Salzman flew off to teach English in Changsha, China. He writes of bureaucrats, students and Cultural Revolution survivors, stripping none of their complexity and humanity. He's gentle with their idiocies, saving his sharpest barbs for himself (it's his pants that split from zipper to waist whilst demonstrating martial arts in Canton). Though dribs of history and drabs of classical lore seep through, this is mostly a personal tale, noted by the Los Angeles Times for "the charmingly unpretentious manner in which it penetrates a China inaccessible to other foreigners."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:15 -0400)

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"The author tells of his two years teaching English to medical students in China's Hunan Province following his graduation from yale University in 1982. This book is 'not so much a treatise on modern Chinese mores as a series of telling vignettes....[The author] describes his encounter with Pan Qingfu, the country's foremost master of wushu, the traditional Chinese martial art.'" Time.… (more)

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