Wild China

One of the great things about watching the Olympics this year is that it gave us a brief glimpse into a country many of us are not familiar with. Still distant, exotic and unknown, the country of China is as diverse as it is vast. You can get an even closer look at the beauty of the land, its wildlife and its people in Wild China, now available at the Davenport Library.

The landscape of China varies dramatically, from the peaks of the Himalayan mountains, to tropical islands, to deserts both hot and cold. Animal and plant life unique to this land – including panda bears – are highlighted as well as the many, long-standing environmental preservation efforts by the country. China is also home to a large number of ethnic peoples and they are also celebrated here – monks at prayer, children in a classroom, fishermen at work.

With stunning photography and expert narration, this BBC production invites you into this beautiful country for more than six hours, time you wish wouldn’t end.

Moving Meditation

There was a lot to be impressed by when watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics last week, not the least of which was the sight of 2008 tai chi masters performing in perfect unison.

Practiced by millions of people around the world, tai chi, a traditional Chinese martial art, is reported to have many health benefits including stress management, improving balance, coordination and flexibility, and strengthening the connection between the body’s muscular system, circulation and breath. Classified as a “soft” martial art, its sequence of slow, relaxed movements can be performed by people of all ages on a daily basis.

For an introduction to tai chi, or to improve your practice, check out the following books and DVDs from the Davenport library.

Tai Chi for Every Body: Easy, Low-impact Exercises for Every Age by Eva Koskuba

Tai Chi: a Practical Introduction by Paul Crompton

Tai Chi Walking: a Low-impact Path to Better Health by Robert Chuckrow

Tai Chi for Busy People (videorecording)

Tai Chi Fundamentals (videorecording)

The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young

The “breath” of a wok is the steam that rises from a sizzling hot finished dish. This charming cookbook takes a slightly different approach to Chinese food by focusing on the wok and its recipes. In addition, there is a history of the wok and it’s importance (central to so much Chinese cooking), the construction and manufacture of woks and advice on buying and seasoning a wok.

While many of the recipes are familiar, there is also a wide range of fresh ideas, gathered from a variety of people including chef Michael Yan, writer Amy Tan and Young’s own family, and range from beginner friendly to master lessons.

Practical, smart and fun, The Breath of a Wok will have you cooking confidently with a wok in no time.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Beautiful, epic, sweeping, mystical, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a revelation to many when it was released in 2000. Starring Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, it is also the story of unrequited love set against the grand sweep of China’s landscape.

A magical, powerful sword is stolen by a notorious thief and two renowned warriors go in pursuit to return it to its rightful owner. A series of breathtaking, fluid fight sequences follow (including one particularly memorable one taking place in windblown treetops) as the protagonists square off against each other. In addition, the stories of two contrasting love affairs unfold and the bonds of duty, honor, sacrifice and loyalty are tested.

Visually stunning, at turns melancholy, soaring, wistful and spiritual, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won four Academy Awards including Best Foreign Language film.

Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Stepping beyond the familiar Chinese cuisines, Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid explores the flavors and foods of the outlying areas of China, including Tibet and Xinjiang in the far west of the country. Authentic recipes, gathered by the authors over a series of visits to China over the past 20 years, are “translated” for the Western kitchen (no need to go looking for camel meat!)

However, this is much more than a cookbook; stories of the adventures and people that were met along the way are scattered throughout the book. The photography is spectacular – there are the usual mouth-watering close-ups of delicious dishes, but there are also sweeping views of the landscape, intimate portraits of the people, and a careful recording the customs and practices of this distant land.

Part cookbook, part travel book, part cultural education, Beyond the Great Wall will feed the soul as well as the body.

Armchair Traveler – China

There’s more to China than panda bears and sweet-and-sour-pork. The Summer Olympics have focused a lot of attention on China – her history, her people and her policies. Take a closer look at this vast and mysterious country through some of the books that have been written about “the Sleeping Dragon”

Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Before her memory fails, LuLing sets down her memoirs so that her daughter can better understand the choices she made. Born and raised in a remote village in China just before WWII, LuLing’s journey to modern America involves both joy and sacrifice.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. This engrossing novel, set in 19th-century China, tells the story of two lifelong friends. Their story is interwoven with the beliefs and practices of the time (including a horrifying description of foot-binding), the inferior status of women and the endurance of friendship.

The Crazed by Ha Jin. Set during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, Jien Wen attends to his college professor who has suffered a stroke. The professors fevered rantings about his past reveal a different China to Jien and eventually changes the course of his life.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. Forced into menial labor in a remote mountain village as part of Mao’s “re-education” program during the Cultural Revolution, two young men find strength and solace through the reading of forbidden literature. Charming, playful and bittersweet.

Brothers by Da Chen

Brothers by Da ChenDo you like historical fiction? Try Brothers by Da Chen. The book takes place in China during the Cultural Revolution and concerns two brothers, Tan and Shento, one born to wealth and privilege , the other to poverty and shame. The story follows their lives as they grow to manhood and fulfill their destinies. Though a work of fiction, the author has also written memoirs of his life in China, and this book draws upon his experiences during those tumultuous times.