Under The Huang Jiao Tree: Two Journeys in China


ISBN: 9780980571721 Format: Trade Paperback Rights: All rights: Transit Lounge Release / Publication Date: 01 /10 /2009


‘This is a wonderful story of mid-life opportunity. Jane Carswell is a courageous woman and a spirited writer. Her book is a warm invitation to us all to risk a deeper kind of journey.’ Michael McGirr, author The Lost Art of Sleep, Things You Get For Free, and Bypass.

In mid-life Jane Carswell leaves her seemingly tranquil New Zealand life, her family and friends, to teach English in Chongqing, China. Her journey into the unknown epitomises the ache so many of us feel in our own lives for new challenges and personal understandings. Under the Huang Jiao Tree is a reflective, amusing and absorbing book about living and working in China, and the profound impact the experience has on the author’s search for connection and community. Carswell writes beautifully and entertainingly of China, of its people and her surprises and setbacks, but where her memoir stands alone is in its description of her own search for a spiritual life and practice. On her return to her Western life she becomes drawn to the teachings of St Benedict, and all at once the reader realises where the purity of her writing springs from: a deep well of calm, silence and belief.

‘Jane Carswell’s account of a year teaching in a Chongqing middle school combines an acute eye for detail with a succinct style that transforms ordinary sights into insights, eloquent and sometimes startling, even for those familiar with China. Her empathy with her Chinese colleagues, her enjoyment of encounters with strangers, her patience with difficult situations create a human story few could resist. Courageous interludes of self-revelation turn this book into the double journey of experience plus introspection that makes it delightfully unique.’
Professor Emeritus Bill Willmott CNZM, Former National President, New Zealand China Friendship Society

Jane Carswell was born in England, has studied Italian in Perugia and taught English in Chongqing, China – which led to her first book, Under the Huang Jiao Tree, winner of
the Whitcoulls Travcom Travel Book of the Year 2010. Jane works now as a piano teacher in Christchurch and practises as a Benedictine oblate. She has a 1912 straight-strung Bechstein
piano, a split-cane fly rod, and grandchildren who remind her what really matters. She is a regular visitor to Australia.

A light, fresh memoir of a Westerner teaching in China, with insightful observations that lead to a journey of self-discovery. After throwing herself into the chaotic, ever-foggy city of Chongqing to teach middle school for a whole year, Jane Carswell grapples with culture and technology, builds relationships among isolation, and sees the beauty and poverty of the world around her. She contrasts life in Chonqing to her home in New Zealand and begins to long for the country she left behind. Through a deconstruction of self, Carswell reveals her passions and anxieties, and explores her identity and place in the world. Patience and tolerance for China reward her with relationships and cultural insight. This book reminds me of Brian Johnston’s Boxing with Shadows, but is less dramatic travel writing and more a self reflection. As a person who has also lived in China for one year, I feel that I already know her story quite well, but feel that she is showing me something new about China. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who feels the urge to travel overseas.
Andrew Wrathall, Bookseller and Publisher October 2009

The Westerner’s spiritual journey to the East has become such a cliché that any author writing on the subject must tread carefully. Jane Carswell treads not only carefully, but thoughtfully and originally.
Lorien Kaye, The Age, Saturday December  26 2009

Carswell was a music teacher in New Zealand, settled into middle age, but restless. She was selected by a Christian school to teach English in China, despite being no evangelical. She took one Bible, for her own use. What she found in China was hard work, culture shock and a spiritual sea change.  In the midst of an atheist, alien land, she turned away from the material, finding the space to write and reflect. The cult of the individual became less important. There are many travellers’ tales published, and equally stories of self-discovery. This book combines both in a very different way. It is unselfish, interesting even to non-believers.
Lucy Sussex, The Sunday Age, October 11 2009

At 56, Jane Carswell abandoned husband and family in New Zealand to spend a year teaching in China, inspired, she says, to find the secret path of an old man she once saw cycling in Beijing. She writes neat, sparse prose telling of her cultural adventure, of the impediments of Chinese bureaucracy and of the zeal, charm and discipline of the Chinese people. There is no high drama; Instead, it is pleasant observational minutiae – until the end when Carswell reveals that what she and the old man have in common was meditation and that being in China brought her home to Catholicism.
Samela Harris. SA Weekend, Adelaide Advertiser, November 21 2009

The author’s empathy with the people she meets, the fascinating insights into Chinese life she provides, her ability to take the reader with her on the personal and private journeys she makes, all contribute to a story well worth reading.
Patricia Thwaites, Otago Daily Times December 12 2009

This book was named Whilcoulls’ Travel Book of the Year for 2010 and it is one of the most wonderful books I have ever read.
Greg Hughson Touchstone magazine, July 2010