At the Teahouse Café: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

At the Teahouse Cafe book cover

Each [essay] is brilliantly written”–Shanghai Talk magazine’s “Top 3 China Books for 2016”

Funny, assumption-challenging, and above all unique…Cook steels his wonderfully iconoclastic opinions with a deep knowledge gained from two decades in Beijing”–Bookish Asia

As an American who has lived in China for many years, Cook provides insights into a culture that is notoriously opaque to outsiders, its intricacies and quirks revealing themselves only after significant immersion.”–Kirkus Reviews

Goodreads reviews:

“In between the random noise, there are gems of information on the Chinese people and culture.”

“I adored this book and after reading it my brain went off on a number of wild trajectories inspired by some of the issues covered within.”

“Tales about everything under the sun, from his bedframe falling apart, to loud construction at midnight, to horrendous customer service, and weaves them smoothly into his account of…the Chinese as a culture, a nation, and a people.”

“A fascinating look at the author’s experiences with the daily intricacies of life in China, which he paints with enough detail that you feel as if you are there with him, navigating through coffee shops blaring off-season Christmas jingles and…the internal politics of working as a teacher in a Chinese university.”

“The essay on differences between Starbucks in China and Japan is my absolute favorite along with the last essay where he talks about racism and yellow fever.”

“Isham Cook has such a great way to get you into each ‘adventure’ he made himself that it feels I’d be there instead.”

“Well-written prose, cynical but humorous observations. Short but thorough, eminently digestible essays. I learned a great deal, about topics I had never even heard of before.”

Amazon reviews:

“I read a lot of China books so it takes something special to really grab me. At the Teahouse Café is such a book. In fact, reading it was a revelation. It’s funny, honest, intelligent, iconoclastic, and above all unique.”

“Well thought out and well-expressed thoughts about living in contemporary China by a cosmopolitan American ex-pat teacher and writer long resident in China. Highly recommended.”

“I recommend At the Teahouse Café for anyone who wants to get a dose of the real China from an American who has lived and worked there as long as Isham Cook has.”

“If you ever wondered about how living in China truly is like but have only found vague explanations about the culture and its people, this is the book for you.”

Book description:

It’s 1949 at Revolutionary University. Chinese students spend all their waking hours in political meetings—when they’re not hauling feces from the latrines to the manure fields.

Jump to 2015. Chinese endure endless meetings at the hands of bosses and are required to keep their cellphones on around the clock and pick up at once—or be fined. They live in a technological utopia while enslaved by the same structures of psychological control of over half a century earlier.

Underlying the myth of a “New China” are the contemporary Middle Kingdom’s numerous continuities with its past. In this wide-ranging collection of essays, Cook reaffirms the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Preface [book only]
1    Honesty, diligence, obedience: Why I support China’s Great Firewall
2    The question of breeding (why foreign men get the “ugly” Chinese girls)
3    The many faces of Chinese “face”
4    From struggle sessions to public dressing-downs: China’s continuity of psychological control
5    Questioning China’s “5,000 years” master trope
6    The Chinese university: A primer for prospective foreign teachers
7    The Chinese art of noise
8    Black Forest cake blues: The customer service problem
9    How to have fun in China’s disposable cities
10    The poverty of the institutional imagination: The case of Beijing’s moats and canals
11  On harpsichords and white pianos: The challenge of music in China
12  The high priests of medicine: U.S. and Chinese hospitals
13  The Chinese-Japanese cultural chasm on display at Starbucks
14  The ventriloquist’s dilemma: Asexual Anglo travelogues of China
15  My lovely little oriental doll: On yellow fever

Now available in paperback, Kindle:


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