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Reporting in China and Egypt: Finding Stories from the Nile to the Yangtze


Peter Hessler (staff writer, The New Yorker)

While travelling in Mallawi, a small city in Upper Egypt, Peter Hessler happened to meet a Chinese couple who had set up shop in a local market. He was surprised to find foreigners in such a remote area, and even more surprised at what they were selling: women's lingerie.

For the next two years, Hessler made repeated research trips to Upper Egypt, where he learned that independent Chinese entrepreneurs were selling lingerie in almost every city. Before living in Egypt, Hessler had spent eleven years in China, and this project allowed him to combine his interests and skills in China and Egypt, Mandarin and Arabic. It also allowed him to untangle a mystery: How had entrepreneurs from an obscure part of Zhejiang province found their way to an even more obscure part of Upper Egypt, and how did they decide to focus on this unusual product?

Through telling the stories of average people, Hessler reveals larger trends in societal upheavals and re-sedimentation. His talk will explore lived realities surrounding China's meteoric rise and Egypt's unanticipated revolution. Drawing from his in-depth coverage of both regions, Hessler will provide insightful comparisons across histories and cultures while elucidating his singular method of finding the story.

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Peter Hessler will also speak with Sinica Podcast host Kaiser Kuo on Friday, November 10 at 3:00PM in the Nasher Museum Auditorium.

Prasenjit Duara, Oscar L. Tang Family Distinguished Professor of East Asian Studies in the Department of History, will introduce Peter Hessler at this keynote talk.

About the speaker

Since 2000, Peter Hessler has been a staff writer at The New Yorker. He first went to live in China's Sichuan province as a Peace Corps volunteer, from 1996 to 1998, an experience that became the subject of his first book, River Town. With Hessler's next two books, Oracle Bones and Country Driving, he completed a trilogy of reported works that spanned a decade in China. In 2011, he moved with his family to Cairo, where he lived for five years. His fifth book, The Buried, described his experiences during the Egyptian Arab Spring.

In 2019, Hessler returned to China, where he taught for two years at Sichuan University. He also covered the pandemic for The New Yorker, reporting from Wuhan and other cities. This experience is the subject of his newest book, Other Rivers, which will be published summer 2024. Hessler currently lives in southwestern Colorado with his wife, the writer Leslie T. Chang, and their twin daughters.

This event is co-sponsored by APSI, the Duke University Middle East Studies Center (DUMESC) and the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) with support from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.


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