This article investigates the influence of the Peace Corps’ salient ideology in Peter Hessler’s works focusing on modern China. As a volunteer of the third cohort of the Peace Corps in China, Hessler served in Sichuan province from 1996 to 1998. We argue that the ideological overtones of the Peace Corps programme significantly influence his representation of China and use his memoir River Town as an example. Applying the concepts of the cultural unconscious by Ming Dong Gu, as well as decoloniality, colonial matrix of power and border thinking by Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh, we show how Hessler’s various actions in the memoir match the mission of the Peace Corps consciously and unconsciously. However, we also show that the narrative emits decoloniality through border thinking as Hessler eventually understands China and its different political culture and proceeds to recognise the shortcomings of American politics. While many enthusiasts of Hessler perceive his writings as challenging the dominant negative view of China in the Western mainstream media, we conclude that, from the perspective of the cultural unconscious, the Peace Corps volunteer’s objective to spread American values far outweighed the Peace Corps’ other mission of achieving a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the Americans.