Huan Hsu on Writing about Family and the Self
Hsu speaks with National Public Radio about his new book The Porcelain Thief.
SEARCHING FOR BURIED TREASURE, A WRITER DISCOVERS HIMSELF
(March 29, 2015) Writer Huan Hsu's great-great-grandfather Liu Feng Shu was a scholar in China's Qing dynasty during the late 1800s and early 1900s. As a patron of the arts, he built up an immense porcelain collection.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese landed near his village on the Yangtze River. As the army approached, Liu and one of his workmen dug a giant hole in their garden, to keep the collection safe.
"It was described to me as deeper than a man was tall and about the size of a bedroom," Hsu tells NPR's Arun Rath. "They lined that hole with bamboo shelving, they filled this vault to the brim and they put a false floor over it and replanted the garden."
Then his great-great-grandfather took his family and fled, leaving the porcelain behind.
That was back in 1938. In his new book, The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China — which is part travelogue, part cultural history, part memoir — Hsu recounts his search for that buried treasure 70 years later.
It was not a journey he ever expected to make. When he was growing up, he wasn't even familiar with, or interested in, this part of his family history. He was an "ABC" — American-born Chinese — living in Utah and trying to fit in.
"I think I was somewhat typical of a child of immigrants, in the sense that I was not really interested in being Chinese at all and was much more interested in assimilating," he says. "I just thought like my parents were from another planet and had come there solely to embarrass me."
[To listen to Hsu tell All Things Considered about how he came to explore and love his family roots — without giving away what he did or didn't find when he finally went digging for treasure — go to NPR, here.]
Huan Hsu is the author of The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China. As a staff writer for the Washington City Paper in Washington, DC, and the Seattle Weekly, he won two Society of Professional Journalists awards and received recognition from the Casey Foundation for Meritorious Journalism. His essays and fiction have appeared in Slate, The Guardian, The Literary Review, and Lucky Peach. He currently lives in Amsterdam where he teaches journalism and creative writing at Amsterdam University College.