As a twenty-two-year-old exchange student at Nanjing University in 1981, John Pomfret was one of the first American students to be admitted to China after the Communist Revolution of 1949. Living in a cramped dorm room, Pomfret was exposed to a country few outsiders had ever experienced, one fresh from the twin tragedies of Mao's rule—the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
Twenty years later, Pomfret returned to the university for a class reunion. Once again, he immersed himself in the lives of his classmates, especially the one woman and four men whose stories make up Chinese Lessons, an intimate and revealing portrait of the Chinese people.
Beginning with Pomfret's first day in China, Chinese Lessons takes us back to the often torturous paths that brought together the Nanjing University History Class of 1982. We learn that Old Wu's father was killed during the Cultural Revolution for the crime of being an intellectual; Book Idiot Zhou labored in the fields for year rather than agree to a Party-arranged marriage; Little Guan was forced to publicly denounce and humiliate her father. In Chinese Lessons, Pomfret follows his classmates from childhood to university and on to adulthood to show the effect that the country's transition from near-feudal communism to First World capitalism has had on his generation.