Tapestry of Chinese culture and a Harvard teen's feeling

Updated: 2013-09-19 08:21

By Chen Yingqun (China Daily)

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Tapestry of Chinese culture and a Harvard teen's feeling

John Thorton: His novel sees China through the eyes of a teenager. Provided to China Daily

Many books have been written about China through the eyes of Western authors with observations usually framed by their own cultural background. But Harvard University student John Thornton approaches the country from a different perspective, unburdened with adult values.

In his first novel, Beautiful Country, the author describes the country and its culture through the eyes of a 14-year-old American boy called Chase. It depicts the protagonist's experiences as he witnesses how a talented young Chinese tennis player becomes caught between the country's old and new values, between following the rules and bending those that inhibit his development as a player. Interwoven are Chase's feelings and insights about Chinese culture and social phenomena.

"I think children see the world in a pure and unfiltered way. Their minds are free from preconceived biases and impressions, so they can see things in a very unique way," he says.

Born in London, Thornton, now 22, came to Beijing when he was 14 to spend a year studying Chinese and training with the Beijing junior tennis team. As an avid writer, he kept journals during his stay that later became resources for his novel.

"Prior to coming to China, I had a very limited knowledge of the country," he says. "But the year I spent in Beijing really opened my eyes and I saw what a fascinating and complex and rapidly evolving country China is."

The Chinese version of Beautiful Country was released in May.

Thornton says that what impressed him most about China was young people's persistence. Even though the talented Chinese player he depicts becomes a day laborer when the story ends, he says that "the keynote is still positive, because he is still young and he won't give up easily".

That is also why he named the book Beautiful Country, as it is a place with hope and people that never give up, he says.