chapter  10.9
6 Pages

My Chinese alter ego, or what’s in a name?

WithAndrew David Field

Everyone who studies Chinese as a foreign language – or any foreign language for that matter – intensively and long enough will be familiar with this phenomenon. Peter Hessler writes about it in his own books about his experiences in China. The idea is that when you learn another language and culture deeply enough, you take on an alternate identity when speaking that language and engaging with that culture. In his memoir Rivertown, Hessler writes about becoming "stupid Peter" or something to that effect. This was back in 1996 when he first lived in China in the town of Fuling along the Yangzi River in Sichuan Province, and he was just starting to learn the language and culture. For a nation that was until very recently largely rural and which endured immense suffering and hardships over the centuries, barnyard humor was and still is an essential feature of Chinese culture.