“Iron and Silk” By Mark Salzman

Published 18 Jan 2017

“Iron and Silk” By Mark Salzman, is not only a book of travel adventures, it is a spiritual journey of a man’s search for meaning in the ordinary; Only to find that the ordinary is often what makes life extraordinary. In his book, East meets West on the playing field of daily living, with the West always looking outward for more, while the East focuses more inwardly. Salzman captured post-cultural revolution China through his adventures as a young American English teacher and his shifu-tudi (master-student) relationship with China’s foremost martial arts teacher. Mark Salzman’s experiences in China were the inspiration that lead him for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction, and he also received the Christopher Award.

Mark Salzman penetrated deeper into the society around him in China than other foreigners could, and picked up friends and teachers along the way. Besides his numerous Masters, all of whom coached him in a different type of “wushu” or martial art, they also guided him for traditional calligraphy and even fishing. The Chinese people he met were all impeccably mannered, hospitable and eager to exchange skills. Even in 1985, Mark Salzman was the only non-Chinese invited to participate in the National Martial Arts Competition in Tianjin. Salzman’s writing is a testament to the many lessons, he learned from the special relationships he developed behind the cold wall of communism and socialism. In “Iron & Silk” westerners catch a glimpse of the real people of China.

Mark Salzman tried his best to get involved in Chinese activities though he couldn’t be the expert. When he got to China, he felt himself like an expert on all things foreign, since every body wanted to learn all about America. He also enjoyed this position because nobody contradict him. He deeply involved himself in Chinese cultural aspects, nevertheless he was like a dummy in this respect initially. But at later stage, he took advantage of the experience being in China, although it was exhausting doing wrong things and feel like owned social skills (that he had built up) do not apply in the certain circumstance.

Getting deeper in the contents of “Iron and Silk”, we may discover that in some early days in China, Mark felt quite depressing being on industrializing place. However, soon at later stage he realized the value of his Western identity. He ever wanted to become a better person by incorporating Asian culture and Asian philosophy.

When his teacher “Pan” did martial arts, Mark had total confidence and he was free like seeing a bird fly. His teacher once told him that “Your problem is that you’re trying to be me”, and Mark realized that this statement of his teacher was the whole experience being in China for him. Mark said, “Leaning about another culture doesn’t mean you have to reject your own. It allows you to see yourself from another perspective, see your good side and your bad side and appreciate what you have”, and this is one of the success factor, Mark enjoying even today.

Mark Salzman, most likely is one of the unique and creative contemporary inpidual. He is always ready to do something new that please his inner feelings, or step out and build healthy relationship even with strangers. His passion for learning and expressing combined with a good work ethic, created so many potentials he was looking for. While in China, he mastered Mandarin Chinese, which opened a unique door for him in Chinese cultural learning. Despite his obsession with all things Chinese, he had no desire to see China. But in his words, he “did need a job,” so he applied for and got a position teaching English at Hunan Medical College in Changsha. This is so exciting for readers that how great experiences can come from such pragmatic decisions.



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