1996年8月一個清朗而溫熱的夏日夜晚，美國人何偉（英文名彼得 · 海斯勒）坐小船順長江而下來到四川涪陵。作為「美中友好志願者」，他在涪陵的一個師專教了兩年書，給英語系的學生們上課。於此期間，他還發奮學習了中文，與當地人逐漸建立了友好的關係。他和他們勤加交流，然後因而得知了許多他在書中看不到的、更為生動的信息。雖然自20世紀以來中國這個地方大事繁多不曾止歇，1997年也仍可以說是一個不太平淡的年份。一則是終結毛澤東革命時代並轉而實施改革開放的鄧小平在這年2月溘然長逝，二則是他在任內所致力的香港主權移交（或稱香港回歸）於7月的時候終於實現。而若是在將範圍擴大一些的話，那麼往前就還有1989年的全國運動，而往後便是三峽大壩的逐漸建成——這將使許多城市被完全淹沒或部分淹沒；涪陵也是其中之一受到影響的城市。那麼關於這最後兩個問題當地的老百姓是怎麼想的呢？答案很簡單，他們不太想這些，除了他們眼見的生活以外，他們已不太花心思在別的上面了。在經歷了前幾十年的苦難後，他們已沒有精力——也不認為自己有資格——去做這樣的煩悶而危險的事情。當然，這倒並不妨礙他們熱烈地慶祝香港的回歸，也不妨礙他們為鄧小平的去世感到悲傷。雖然有趣的是，相比於許多中老年人，年輕的學生們在哀傷之餘已不會再去憎恨上一位領袖了，而是認為他的錯誤並不影響他的豐功偉績；在中國的歷史上，他是最可敬佩的人之一。自然何偉不會認同這樣的觀點，但是也沒有辦法向他的學生們直接地反駁，因為那會使他受到校方的警告；他只能將這些記錄下來，同時還有其他的許多事情。他說四川涪陵是個貧窮的小城市，除了「涪陵榨菜」沒什麼尤為著名的地方，也不常常見到外國人，於是從來沒有什麼外國的書籍為它而書寫。然而他還是寫了它。所以我就想無論怎樣，恐怕有一點總歸是相同的，就是那裡住著人，而他們和其他人一樣在自己的世界裡呼吸生活著。而且涪陵還有個美好的特點，那就是是它像四川的許多其他城市一樣接鄰著各式江水。於是，何偉為他所記錄的這些取名為《江城》,並以此來紀念他的這個「中國老家」。
A warm and clear night in August of 1996, an American called He Wei (or Peter Hessler) took a small boat and, down the Yangtze River, arrived in Fuling of Szechwan. As a volunteer of a America-China peace group, he worked two years at a normal training college，teaching the students of English major. During the time, he put much effort into learning Chinese and gradually established good relationships with the locals. He often talked to them and thus got much vivid information he could not get from books. Though China experienced many large events since the start of 20th century, 1997 could still be considered a comparatively important year. One is that Deng Xiaoping, who ended the time of Chairman Mao and started reform and opening up, died in the February of this year; one is that the Handover of Hong Kong (or the Return of Hong Kong), which Deng devoted into in his tenure, was finally achieved in the July. And if the scope is enlarged a little, then we’ll have the nationwide movement of 1989, and the establishment of Three Gorges Dam that would happen after - this would cause the complete or part submergence of many cities, one of which was Fuling. So, what did the common people think of these two things? The answer is quite easy: they didn’t think of it much. But to live a better life, they rarely thought of something else. After having been through so much misery in the last few decades, they had no energy - and they didn’t think they have the right - to do such a dangerous and annoying thing. But of course, this didn’t interfere them with celebrating the return of Hong Kong, or feeling sorrowful for the passing away of Deng. Though the interesting thing was that, compared to the elder people, the young students didn’t hate Mao when they felt sorrowful anymore, but thought that he was one of the most great despite his pitfalls. He Wei wanted to refute this, but could not as he would be warned by the college, so he wrote it down along with many other things in the small city. He wrote that Fuling was a poor city without much fame but its preserved Szechuan pickle and did not see many foreign coming, so could not come into the western books. However, he still wrote it, so I am afraid there is one thing common: there lives many people, and they breath and live like the other ones elsewhere. And Fuling even has a good point: it is located among many rivers like many other cities of Szechuan. So, He Wei named his book River Town, to commemorate his this“Chinese Laojia (Hometown)”.
We read some articles when we did dazuo, in which there wrote some confusion that present people have: whether there is God or not; if there is, why some bad people could live so well, et cetera. Now reading this I would think that it is so easy and even feel arrogant, but on a second thought I know that I should not feel so, for if it were not for uncle, I would be in the same condition as them, and even would not think of these questions, goofing around all day long. Some things are easy to understand after being given the reasoning, just like after seeing the answer to a math question you will think it is not difficult, but you cannot say that you are good at math. And if not for uncle, who explained the things in an easy way and taught us how to think, how much turns we need to experience to get to the bottom - or not even reach it. To prove this is easy: one is that before we come, we don’t know these; one is that, so many smarter people are wondering about these questions.