The Chronicles of China: The Dog, The Heir, and The Pocketbook

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 6. Book #1, Shanghai by Brooke1 Comment

The Dog by Jack Livings is a collection of short stories that epitomize the lives or varied individuals throughout China. I believe Livings wrote these stories for an American audience as they play with common themes and stereotypes that are often verbalized in American society. For example, the very first short story that Livings presents us with is titled “The Dog.” From the first few pages it appeared that Livings was tackling the stereotype that Chinese people eat dogs. While addressing this issue, Livings also goes into many more complicated Chinese societal aspects such as misogynistic attitudes. While one of the main characters in this story, Chen Wei is adamant about cooking the dog, his wife, Li Yan, refuses to let him and his family cook it. Li Yan instead cooks another meal which her husband deems unfit.

“Finally Chen Wei turned to his wife and shouted, ‘You’ve cooked for a pack of dogs, so let the head of the family have the first bite.’ And with that he hurled the plates at the dog…The family watched, enraptured, all except Li Yan. She stood to the side, the plates held tight against her breast, as if to challenge someone to wrest them from her” (Livings 31).

While Li Yan was the victim of abuse in this situation, she also is the individual who showed the most compassion to her surroundings. I believe that this enlightens the readers on the specifics of gender roles in China, women are expected to be docile and complacent. They also are expected to be compassionate but only when it benefits her husband. We see Li Yan here fighting against the boundaries of this role set for her by her husband and society.

Another story Livings includes is titles “The Heir,” I found this story to be particularly interesting because it deals with racism and police brutality. It entails a story about a man who was a Uyghurs, a minority race in China with darker skin. He was arrested after being rude to a barber shop owner who made racist comments towards him and almost refused service. When he was arrested, he was beaten badly by a police officer.

I found this passage to be interesting because I have noticed a lot of colorist attitudes here. When I have walked around or went out with my friends of color, they always receive looks from people passing by, sometimes just blank stares but sometimes dirty looks. I believe there is a beauty standard here of lighter skin being more beautiful. I think this story expands on this racism that I have observed. It helped me to understand that there are people in other communities who receive more than just dirty looks for the color of their skin but rather are subjected to cruel oppression.

There are many other stories through the novel which delve into other facets of Chinese society. “Mountain of Swords, Sea of Fire” is about a man who devotes his life to his journalistic career only to see it fail in the end. I believe this piece was trying to give insight into the Chinese attitudes towards work and possibly their frustration with putting their lives into their work. Another story, “The Pocketbook,” discussed a student who was studying away in Beijing and felt isolated from their surroundings. I related to this story particularly as there are times when I feel like even though I’m in a group of people here, I feel invisible because I don’t know many people. However, the story also shifts when the main character’s pocketbook gets stolen. Livings demonstrates through this piece seclusion one can feel while coming to China while also addressing issues of theft which are prominent.

Overall, Livings tells compelling tales that give us insight into the social issues of China and make us as outsiders of the culture, more understanding of what is going on and not to simply adhere to stereotypes.


  1. Hey Brooke! Colorism is something I’m really passionate about, I’m so glad you brought it up when talking about your experience in China. I don’t think that something people are aware of happening in East Asia, and it was super interesting for me to hear about that from an author catering to Americans. Also, I’m glad you mentioned gender roles in Chinese society, that’s certainly always a continuing conversation, and I wonder how that translates into your experience.

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