Iron And SilkSalzman, M., (1986). Iron and Silk. New York: Random House. This book was given to me by a good
friend who knew that I had an interest in Asia. I chose to read it because it was a true story and was told that it
was a good read.
The author travels to China as an English teacher for the Hunan Medical School. There he stayed for two
years picking up many anecdotes along the way. The author already had spent a large amount of his life studying
Chinese language and the martial arts. However, when he arrives in China he meets teachers who have dedicated
their entire lives to perfecting a particular art or skill, whether it be martial arts or calligraphy.
Mark Salzman was perfecting his calligraphy skills and as weeks had passed he began to make progress.
He was getting tired of the models and wanted to try something new. When he told Hai Bin,(his teacher), he
frowned and said,?Some people spend their entire lives researching a single model. You should be willing to
spend a year on this one.? This is an example of the dedication and perseverance these men have towards their
chosen artform or skill. Another example of this theme, was Mark’s Wushu teacher, Pan, who punched a fifty
pound plate of steel up to ten thousand times a day. Mark’s relentless practicing of the many forms of Wushu was
influenced by Pan.
Salzman also showed that there was great oppression. The people of China were under constant
surveillance and control. Rarely were they able to make important decisions for themselves. It was sad to see that
in a country with so many people there was so little freedom. The government controlled everything from the
railroad to the Rat Collection Office to whether families and friends could mourn for lost loved-ones. Mark found
this way of life troublesome yet he had stay strong and focused for his calligraphy and martial arts.
Mark Salzman’s Iron and Silk did a wonderful job of illustrating the people of China. He brought to life a
corner of the world that we would rarely be able to see, outside of picture books. His representation is a very
personal one, taking you beyond the scenery and into the action and heartache. Throughout this book, Salzman
expertly reveals the personality and spirit of the Chinese people. He does this with his own type of special
imagery. He drops in enough key details and leaves the rest to your imagination. This caused me to pay close
attention to what was going on. His style of writing makes you feel like you are right there beside him,
participating in each of his many escapades. I was influenced by the dedication his teachers had for their chosen
artform and will remind myself to use that dedication and perseverance in my long-term goals.
Mark Salzman’s purpose was to take you to China and introduce you to the people he had met on his
journey. He had published this book only two years after he had gone to China. He desperately wanted to share an
outsiders look into China and what influences were in his life. Mark wrote so fluidly that it was person to person.
Anyone can pick up this book and be an observer in the memories of the author.
I found that my reading skills vary like a roller coaster. I had days when I found my reading to be very
choppy and I had to remind myself to see the words in the book as speech and not words in a book,(if that makes
any sense). My vocabulary was up to par and the book was an easy read. I began to use my speed reading
techniques without discomfort near the last few chapters in the book.