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PURSUING CHINA: Memoir of a Beaver Liaison Officer. By Brian L. Evans. Edmonton: The University of Alberta.. 2012

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Book Reviews 813 (almost a taboo) figure in Chinese scholarship, for his often murky activities in the art market, but more for his investment of his hardcore Qing loyalism in service to the Manchukuo regime. In recent years he has been the subject of much attention, and is gradually emerging as one of the key figures in the intellectual world of the Republic, particularly as an older master-narrative of May 4th “Westernisation,” which had often written “traditionalists” out of history altogether, comes to be seen as insufficient. Shana Brown’s book stands as an important contribution to the overthrow of that master-narrative, and to the creation of a richer history of China’s modern culture. It is marred by only one important failing, perhaps to be laid at the door of the publisher rather than the author. This is that, for a book which makes much of the significance of images, and for the importance of paying attention to their materiality, Pastimes is itself curiously sparsely illustrated. Although not enough to stop this from being a valuable work which has much to say to all historians of the culture, art and politics of China, it is perhaps a poor tribute to men whose central position was that words alone are not enough for a full understanding. University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom  Craig Clunas PURSUING CHINA: Memoir of a Beaver Liaison Officer. By Brian L. Evans. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 2012. x, 295 pp. (Illus., B&W photos.) C$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-88864-600-2. Writers sometimes have to ignore the advice of their publisher’s editorial boards. Brian Evans, a gregarious, erudite professor of Chinese history at the University of Alberta, was advised by his publishers to edit a memoir, written while he recovered from cancer, to say less about his tough childhood in Taber, Alberta, and more about his adult career, much of it involved with Canada-China relations. He resisted the suggestion—and has produced a moving and insightful memoir. It starts with his hard-scrabble life in rural Alberta in the 1930s, goes on to his years as a graduate student in London and, later, to Canada-China relations. There are connections between the two stories. When he visited Mao Zedong’s birthplace in Hunan, Evans was struck by the fact that Mao had been born in to much more prosperous circumstances than he himself had. And the story of his move out of poverty and in to the professorial ranks is one which chimes well with one of China’s most cherished beliefs, that education is the route to success, through which poor young men can rise to the heights. Evans’ descriptions of his life in the academic world are nostalgic, looking back to a time not long past, when university administrations were quite lean, when administrators and faculty members lived in the same world, and when private fundraising was less dominant. There is another regret, the cancellation of a program that took Evans and many other Canadian Pacific Affairs: Volume 85, No. 4 – December 2012 814 academics to Beijing, to be the resident sinologist in the Canadian Embassy there. Those of us fortunate enough to have held this position have deeply regretted its demise. As a memoirist, Evans has two great strengths. The first is his sense of humour, which brings us several wonderful anecdotes. One is the story of one of the most bizarre episodes in Canada-China relations, the gift by Prime Minister Trudeau of four beavers to a startled Chinese government. Evans was the liaison officer in charge of cultural exchanges at the time. He was serving then as the resident sinologist in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. He also tells, with great good humour, the story of his misadventure with a Chinese airplane seat, which had been doused with cleaning fluid. Evans’ discomfort grew as he flew north to Beijing and led to him lying on his front in a Beijing hospital for three weeks. The hilarious account of the painful experience ends with his efforts to sue the Civil Aviation Administration of China, which tells us more about the status of the law in China than many learned treatises do. Evans’ second strength is his unflinching honesty. On a personal level he tells the story of his marriage with a candour and affection so clear that the improbable elements disappear. Margo Burwash was fifteen years older than him, and his high school teacher. They fell in love and eventually married, a marriage that lasted until her death thirty-five years later. On the political side he does not prevaricate about his feelings of intense loyalty and love for China, which have led him at times to take unpopular positions. In 1989, he voiced his criticism of the students occupying Tiananmen Square in Beijing in a letter to the Globe and Mail, published by awful coincidence on June 4th, just after the killing of students started. Many writers would have been tempted to leave this out of a memoir, but Evans has left it in. Many of his colleagues did not share his view, but we did respect him. The main title of this book is Pursuing China. It is a fitting title. It sums up for so many of us who have had the good fortune to be in this field how fascinating and endlessly tantalizing the study of China is. China is immensely important to Canada, and for a while Canada was very important to China (see Evans’ acute observations on the “many uses of Bethune”). Even though those days have passed, the great importance of China to all Canadians has only grown. The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada Diana Lary


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