Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze


Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis

Age: 11+

Interests: China, history, city life, hardship, careers, coming of age

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.: 1932

252 pages, 14 chapters

When his father dies and it becomes necessary to sell their farm, Young Fu and his mother move into the big city of Chungking, where Fu is to be apprenticed to a coppersmith. Despite dire poverty and the demands of his new position, Young Fu takes a lively interest in all that the city has to offer. He befriends a scholar who lives upstairs, who teaches him to read and write – a rare skill for one of his station – and also exposes him to philosophy and a deeper understanding of life. The 1920s were a time of great upheaval and change in China, and even though his mother distrusts and fears all things to do with the foreigners now in their midst, Fu dares to do business with them and even help them in times of need. His occasional missteps through naivete are balanced out by his moral sense and work ethic, and he quickly gains the respect of his talented employer. Through Fu’s encounters with tradesmen, scholars, soldiers, beggars and bandits, the reader is treated to a cross-section of Chinese society as it existed just before the revolution. The tension between old superstitions and new ways is demonstrated; Fu bravely bridges the two but all the while his mother hurries to pray at neighbourhood shrines to appease the various gods her son may have offended each day.

There are humorous and terrifying episodes in Fu’s story, as his actions can reap huge consequences for he and his mother. He means well, but like any young man, can also fall prey to predatory merchants and seedy gamblers. In the end his devotion and hard work pay off, as the coppersmith offers to adopt him as his own son and someday give him the thriving business.

A long read, and some would find it slow (after all it was written in 1933!), but I thought it moved along at a good pace and there is a lot of adventure and drama along the way. Fu and his mother rise from extreme poverty to a position of greater security, and Fu matures from an impulsive, headstrong, overly proud boy to a thoughtful, humble and accomplished young artisan.



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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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