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i66 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. i, Spring 1997 J. Bruce Jacobs and Ouyang Yu, translators. Bitter Peaches and Plums: Two Chinese Novellas on the Recent Chinese StudentExperience in Australia. Melbourne: Monash Asia Institute, 1995. x, 249 pp. Paperback, isbn 07326 -0871-6. The two novellas translated in this volume have previously appeared in Chinese literary magazines.1Set in Sydney and Melbourne, respectively, they tell ofthe Odyssey of some Chinese students in Australia in the mid-1980s. Unlike their counterparts in the U.S., most Chinese students who came to Australia during this period did so to study English, and consequentiy knew very little English to begin with. Since the Australian policy at the time was to "export education" in the form ofEnglish-language courses, anyone who was willing to pay a halfyear oftuition and living expenses could enter the country. Most students who came to Australia on the pretext oflearning English actually intended to work, save money, and find a way to stay in Australia permanendy. As most arrived with little money—and many with a large debt incurred to pay for their Australian education—it was imperative that they start earning Australian dollars as soon as possible. This meant that they had to compete with other members ofAustralian society without first getting to know it. The resulting culture shock was inevitable. These two novellas describe some of the traumatic experiences of Chinese students who were trying to earn as much as possible in as short a time as possible and in the meantime still fit into English classes, not only to satisfy the government's requirements but also because English was a practical tool in their attempts to find a job. The Introduction provides a clear historical background to the two stories that covers both China and Australia. Though fhe tide calls them novellas, the translators actually describe these pieces as "reportage" or "faction" in the Introduction . They state that "such works describe real situations, but use literary devices such as psychological description and insight, internal monologues, invented dialogues, and non-chronological time sequence such as flashbacks." The translators also give four reasons for translating these two pieces. Among them the most unexpected, for this reviewer, is that both "give insight into current Chinese images ofAustralia." They maintain that since Australia is a littleknown and often misunderstood country, these works can serve as a mirror reflecting the image ofAustralia as seen by Chinese eyes. In fact, though the authors were newcomers to Australia when they wrote these novellas, their view of Aus-© 1997 by University tra]ia was already substantially different from that ofordinarypeople in China. ' wm ' ssThe authors mayhave spent most oftheir time with other Chinese students and did not have a great deal ofcontact with Australians, but they still learned much more about Australia than their compatriots in China; fhey did this by reading Reviews 167 Chinese-language newspapers and magazines published in Australia, and by learning the practical things that had to be learned in order to survive, such as the rudiments ofAustralian immigration and tax laws. I agree with the translators that these two works will be ofinterest to English-speaking readers because ofthe images they present not only ofAustralia but ofWestern society as well—images tiiat are certain to provide food for thought on the subject ofcross-cultural understanding and prejudice. In the Introduction, the authors are critical of the Australian government's policy of"exporting" English-language courses to China. Not only did this policy fail to earn any foreign exchange for Australia, but it also brought many people to Australia under false pretenses. Because too many ofthese "language students" came at one time, they suffered great hardship trying to adjust to anew country and achieve what they had set out to do, that is, find a job quickly. Consequendy, they were forced to take on work that they found demeaning, outside their own areas ofexpertise. Worse, theywere heartlessly exploited by unscrupulous employers. Looking at these experiences in hindsight, one may argue that all of this was not such a bad thing after all: ten years later, almost all ofthese people have settled in without too much difficulty, and they have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 166-170
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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