A journalist travels throughout mainland China and Taiwan in search of his family’s hidden treasure and comes to understand his ancestry as he never has before.
In 1938, when the Japanese arrived in Huan Hsu’s great-great-grandfather Liu’s Yangtze River hometown of Xingang, Liu was forced to bury his valuables, including a vast collection of prized antique porcelain, and undertake a decades-long trek that would splinter the family over thousands of miles. Many years and upheavals later, Hsu, raised in Salt Lake City and armed only with curiosity, moves to China to work in his uncle’s semiconductor chip business. Once there, a conversation with his grandmother, his last living link to dynastic China, ignites a desire to learn more about not only his lost ancestral heirlooms but also porcelain itself. Mastering the language enough to venture into the countryside, Hsu sets out to separate the layers of fact and fiction that have obscured both China and his heritage and finally complete his family’s long march back home.
Melding memoir, travelogue, and social and political history, The Porcelain Thief offers an intimate and unforgettable way to understand the complicated events that have defined China over the past two hundred years and provides a revealing, lively perspective on contemporary Chinese society from the point of view of a Chinese American coming to terms with his hyphenated identity.
“[A] standout book.” – New York Times Book Review
“Not only is The Porcelain Thief a tantalizing mystery — will he find the treasure, or will it be a wild goose chase? — but it is an unearthing of various kinds of booty for the reader: a riveting lesson in Chinese history; a fascinating story of porcelain and its prominent place in the development of China; a gastronomic tour; a vivid and complex portrait of contemporary Chinese culture and the texture of modern life in the world’s largest country; and a group portrait of an extended, sprawling, fascinatingly eccentric Chinese family. Moreover, the story is all told through the lens of an ABC, or an American Born Chinese. And not just any old ABC, but one with attitude.”
– Washington Independent Book Review
“In addition to documentary and family history, Hsu explores China's social and political history, as well as his personal feelings about China, and the value of documenting and sharing Chinese family stories. Hsu's fluid writing helps to synthesize these threads into a coherent story well worth reading.” – Publishers Weekly
“[Hsu’s] persistence in the face of numerous obstacles is beyond admirable… He offers plenty of intriguing information about Chinese history and culture, from wild Shanghai traffic to family dynamics. Some first-rate detective work.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Huan Hsu takes us on an intriguing journey into his family's and China's tumultuous past. The Porcelain Thief provides a great, intimate view into how modern China really works.” – Frank Langfitt, NPR Correspondent, Shanghai
“Huan Hsu's return to his ancestral Chinese village in search of buried treasure keeps readers turning the pages, eager to see what he finds. The dig turns up more than ancient family valuables, as Hsu meets distant relatives and learns of the turmoil that they endured and that he, as an American-born Chinese, avoided. Part memoir, part journey, and part archaeological expedition, The Porcelain Thief is as suspenseful as any Indiana Jones adventure.” – Michael Meyer, author of The Last Days of Old Beijing and In Manchuria
“Huan Hsu blends a fascinating search for his own family’s roots with an illuminating portrait of modern China. The Porcelain Thief is a wonderful read.” —Rob Gifford, author of China Road