4 out of 4 stars
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Stirring Li Chao is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about Daoism or Confucius. I personally know very little of China's multi-faceted history, so reading this book was a bit of an eye-opener for me. The main story centers around Li Chao, who through various circumstances, finds himself on an incredible journey through China. His ultimate goals include finding relatives he has never met and heading to America in search of fortune. Li Chao does not wish for fortune only for the sake of gaining wealth. In the Chinese mindset, one must always honor the family; Li Chao's way of doing this is to bring back fortune for the benefit of his family.
The author allows an intimate look into the mindset of a Chinese Daoist. This is either intriguing or frustrating, depending on the reader's outlook. If the reader merely wants quick entertainment, this is not the book to pick up. Rather, Stirring Li Chao is filled with philosophical pondering as Li Chao searches for wisdom and gleans all there is to know from perspectives other than his own. His journey is somewhat miraculous, as it appears that some hand is guiding and protecting him through multiple perilous situations.
Another theme the author explores is differences between various Chinese factions in the mid-1800's. The reigning emperor comes from the Manchu family. China is the midst of a struggle with Britain over trade rights and the legality of the opium trade. The gospel message spread by missionaries has been taken up as a political war cry by the Taiping rebels. Meanwhile, in another area of China the Hakka and Punti families are feuding. While on his journey, Li Chao encounters all of these groups. Each time he seeks to be humble and learn.
Li Chao's journey takes on philosophical, historical, and spiritual significance. For me, the beauty of this book was learning so much about this time period in China. The author weaves in many Chinese proverbs, which helps to provide a richness and depth to the story. I find the pace to be fairly slow, although it feels right for the subject matter. The main characters are developed very well. I don't wish to give away spoilers, but some may feel the ending was not properly resolved. However, I feel that Stirring Li Chao is more about the journey than about how it ends, so I feel that the ending fits with the character of the book.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I enjoyed learning so much about this segment of history. As a westerner, I realize that I do not understand the Chinese mindset. China's civilization is ancient and has much to teach the student of history. I recommend this book fairly highly, but with the caveat that it is a weighty work. Some may not enjoy this style.
Stirring Li Chao
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