Oct 26 2018

Q&A: Larry Herzberg, author, professor of Chinese at Calvin College

Latest Book on China:

1. What first peaked your interest in China?

When I was in high school my mother gave me a book entitled “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang. The book explained beautifully the author’s Daoist beliefs, talked about the life of the great scholar-official, Su Dong-Po, and mentioned some great works of Chinese literature.

2. Could you give our readers a little intro to your book?

Despite the fact that China is the world’s most populous nation and has now become the number two economy in the world, most people in the U.S. know far too little about it. As a professor of Chinese language and culture over the past four decades, it has seemed increasingly important to me to point out many of the notable things about China, both in the past and in the present, which are generally an untold story. It also seems vital to correct many of the misconceptions that a great majority of Americans have about a country with which the U.S. has a greater involvement than ever before.

In this book I have attempted to introduce to a general audience some of the most significant and fascinating aspects of both ancient and contemporary China. I have included 51 separate articles divided into three major sections: China’s Past; Chinese Society, Culture, and Language; and China Today.

3. Did you attend any university courses in China (language program/degree)? If so, which university program, when and general thoughts on it?

I did my study of Chinese in the 1970’s, back when there weren’t all the wonderful programs in China that now exist. I learned all my Chinese in an undergraduate program at Vanderbilt U. and in the Ph.D. program at Indiana University.

My Chinese language students at Calvin College participate in our college’s own China Semester Program, held every other fall semester at Capital Normal U. in Beijing.There they study Chinese intensively with native speakers as instructors while taking a sequence of Chinese History courses from ancient times to the present taught by a Calvin Asian Studies professor.

4. How important is it for students to have an understanding of China today?

It’s absolutely vital for American students in particular to have a better understanding of China today than most Americans have. China has been very much demonized by our politicians and our media over the past few decades, which has now led us into a damaging trade war with that country and threatens to initiate a Cold War between the U.S. and China which would be destructive to both sides. Many wiser heads than I have said that the history of the 21st century will largely be determined by the fate of U.S.-China relations. After all, the U.S. is still the only true super-power in the world, and China the only rising super-power to challenge the U.S. economically. And the U.S.-China relationship is the largest between any two countries in history.

5. Any general China advice for people thinking about studying or moving to China?

Yes. Don’t believe all the negative things you hear about China as the enemy of the U.S. and an oppressive society, and go experience it for yourself. You’ll find it the most dynamic country in the world at present, with an extremely high level of energy and optimism about the future. You’ll also find a country with a fascinating history, some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, the world’s greatest cuisine, and some of the nicest and most lovable people on the planet. And now there are at least a dozen cities in China where the standard of living has reached such a high level that Americans and other Westerners can not only spend a semester or two happily studying there, but can actually truly enjoy living and working there long-term, as so many of my graduates are doing.


  • Favourite city in China?
    • Beijing for culture
    • Hangzhou and Qingdao for their beauty and as a pleasant place to be
  • Favourite place to visit in China (restaurant/city/tourist site)? - West Lake in Hangzhou and Yangshuo
  • Favourite Chinese Dish? - Jiaozi (As the Chinese say, 舒服不过倒着,好吃不过饺子,“for comfort you can’t beat lying down, and for deliciousness you can’t beat jiaozi!”)
  • Favourite Chinese proverb or expression? - 知足者常乐也 (“Those who know they have enough are always content.”)
  • Last Book you read about China? - China Shakes the World” by James Kynge
  • Favourite Book on China - “Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China Essays” by Bill Holm. It’s from the 1980’s, when China was much less developed and prosperous as it is today, but it’s beautifully written with great heart for the Chinese people.
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