Hsun-Ching is orphaned as a small child and is raised by the monk Wei-Ching, who teaches Hsun-Ching to read and write. Wei-Ching is a scholar of Buddhist information and has devoted his life to the collection and preservation of ancient scrolls, but it is the era of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and many Buddhist relics are being destroyed. While visiting a temple, Wei-Ching and Hsun-Ching are attacked by a troupe of Red Guards, and Hsun-Ching is sent away to work on a farm in the countryside.
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After ten years of enforced labor and starvation, Hsun-Ching leaves the farm and finds his way back to Wei-Ching, who is now weak and elderly. Hsun-Ching promises his teacher that he will recover the Laughing Sutra, a legendary scroll that may reveal a new path to enlightenment. With the help of a very strange new friend named Colonel Sun, who turns out to be an immortal soldier, Hsun-Ching dodges the Chinese border patrol and sails to America, where he lands in San Fransisco. While Hsun-Ching searches the museums of Asian antiquities and meets Allison, a young painter and assistant curator, Colonel Sun enters a dwarf-tossing contest and ends up in the middle of a seamans' brawl.
Though Hsun-Ching is strongly tempted to stay in the U.S., his sense of obligation spurs him to return to China and keep his promise to his dying teacher. Back home, Hsun-Ching finds that global politics are already changing, and learns that there may be more possibilities open to him than he ever imagined.
The review of this Book prepared by Jacqueline West