Book Review: The Power of Books

Education and literacy are important factors in our society nowadays. With thousands of babies born every minute all over the world, parents are more concerned in feeding their family than sending their children to school.  Illiteracy is one of the crucial problems by the community along with poverty and hunger.

In 1998, Glen Peterson, a current professor of the University of British Columbia teaching social and cultural history released a book called The Power of Words: Literacy and Revolution in South China which depicts the shows the social and political history of the struggle for literacy in rural China from 1949 until 1994. In conclusion, the issue does not only exist in the modern times where there are billions of people in population and counting but also in the 20th century when there are great expansion of schools and great success in the education sector.

Peterson’s group of analysts state that the book aim to show how China's revolutionary leaders conceived and promoted literacy in the countryside and how villagers made use of the literacy education and schools they were offered.

Rather than focusing narrowly on educational issues alone, Peterson examines the larger significance of P.R.C. literacy efforts by situating the literacy movement within the broad context of major themes and issues in the social and political history of post-1949 China. Following the recent trend toward regional and local history, this book focuses on the linguistically diverse, socially complex, and politically awkward southeastern coastal province of Guangdong. As well, Peterson conducted interviews with local officials and teachers in several Guangdong counties in 1988 and 1989.

According to a book review by Irving Epstein of the China Quarterly, “... it is to the author's credit that he is able to weave his discussion of different issues... into a coherent narrative that reinforces the importance of adding historical context to contemporary policy discussions. Furthermore, the primary source documentation that he has gathered from within Guangdong province is both significant and impressive. For all of these reasons, this volume is an important contribution to the field of Chinese education and should be of interest to historians, social scientists and comparative educators who work in this area.”

Peterson had just recently received a medal of recognition from the Indonesian Studies Society of Hong Kong held at Jakarta, Indonesia in April, 2014 for his most recent book, China and the Overseas Chinese. Peterson has been active in his teaching and writing career and there are expectations for more great books in the future. As for his life, he stated in an interview that he never had any complaints and had been living and studying until he is old enough to lift a pen.