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Digging to China: Down and Out in the Middle Kingdom Hardcover – June 1, 1991

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press; First Edition edition (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0939149516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0939149513
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,037,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

During the mid-1980s Brown taught English at a medical college in the northern Chinese city of Xi'an; this is his story of the experience, including a coda relating his reactions to two subsequent trips to the Middle Kingdom, the last in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. An insightful writer, he has an eye for the telling detail and manages to appreciate Chinese culture without being unnecessarily awed, a stance which allows him to maintain objectivity. Brown's sense is that the most enduring of China's national traits is perseverance--that, as a society, it "possesses far more than its share of time" and "with perfect indifference . . . can ride its celestial tracks almost forever." He tends to focus on the personal rather than the political, forgoing a broad portrait for anecdotal images of daily life. There are a few false notes--the author's description of his search for the birthplace of Chinese Buddhism, for instance, reads like a guidebook--but for the most part, this is a charming look at a land where the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Colorless recounting of the author's experiences as a teacher of English at the Medical College in Xi'an, China, and of a couple of subsequent visits to the People's Republic. Alternating between relentlessly earthbound prose and flights of turgid rhetoric, Brown tells of his duties in the classroom, of his American and Chinese colleagues, and of trips off-campus to visit such sights as the terra-cotta army of Qin Shi Huang Di, unearthed in the 1970's. He complains about the food, about the heat and cold, about the general ``greyness'' of Chinese society. Readers may feel a similar urge to gripe, for he brings neither the settings nor the people he encounters to life. Brown tells, for example, of several Americans who also teach at the college, and of a Chinese compatriot, Dr. Fu, who, separated from his wife by bureaucratic red tape, contemplates suicide. But these figures remain little more than ciphers, and one pair, a married couple with whom Brown was apparently quite friendly, disappears inexplicably from the narrative while on a trip to Tibet. Brown's handling of nature is somewhat better, however: his description of a pilgrimage to Hua Shan, one of the five sacred mountains of China, manages to build up suspense as the pilgrims inch their way up a narrow ledge to reach the peak. But his attempts at humor, as in his recounting of a visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Kunming, fail to come off: ``the Queen passes by me a second time, her hand stretched through a half-open window...like a limp flyswatter.'' And when Brown tries to add philosophical resonance, he falls into rhetorical obscurity: ``Our shadows score the earth until the dark creases fill with level dust; decomposed, we too are rendered wordless by our passage.'' Brown didn't dig far enough; for a far more penetrative look at modern China see, for example, Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster (1988). -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Randall Pennington on September 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
I suppose if I expected a Bill Bryson-ish essay on China, I may have not rated this book as highly as I do....But over the last 2 years I have gotten to attend classes taught by J. D., and I became interested in his exploits in China as a result of the many episodes he related; and I must say that the book is a faithful representation of J.D.'s experience as HE experienced it. J. D. isn't Pearl Buck, nor is he a paid travel writer. What he is is a teacher/researcher without pretense. He is an articulate, highly intelligent person who happens to be from the USA....and if this clouds his views on China, is it any wonder? Aren't we all indellibly marked with the cultural heritage that we are brought up in? I recommend this book highly, especially if you are a language teacher. I recommend J.D.'s classes even more....
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Format: Hardcover
This book was on a suggested bibliography of books to read before visiting China prepared by Longitude Books. I dutifully read it. The Kirkus review is accurate-a lot of description in a non humorous way about the hassles of living in China. However, one does gain a sense of the passage of time and the many civilizations in Xian. Simon Winchester's book cited by the other reviewers is a lot better and you should read that first. Also I would suggest Death of a Red Heroine-a modern day mystery set in Shanghai for a description of modern Chinese life and how politics affects everyday life That book was one of the top five rated new mysteries of 2000 or 2001.
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By A Customer on September 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
Down and Out in the Middle Kingdom is not the best book on China. In my Opinion "Mandate of Heaven" by Orville Schell is, and Simon Winchester's book on his journey along the Yangtze river are. But Brown is not far from the truth is portraying China as at times gray and depressing. I have been reading and interested in China for years, but my recent trip to China this summer was very anti-climatic. China has some great stuff and people, but the bottom line is that much of China is polluted, gray, and depressing. Anyone going to China and expecting Japan or the China of Mulan is in for a rude awakening. A trip to China is at times wonderful, and at times very trying and depressing. Its a mixed bag. This book acurately shows this aspect of China. Its a place of magical places and people, but its also a place of some not so great things. This book is a good read for its realism.
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By A Customer on August 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
After a tortured journey through Brown's book, I'd have to say that the Kirkus review was rather generous. If Brown considers Salzman's book his only competition there would still be no reason for him to write his book. Salzman's "Iron and Silk" demonstrated an ability to become absorbed in Chinese culture although he hated to travel. Brown's book combines poor writing---including long sentences with regularly changing tenses---and a whining lack of acceptance for the country. The book is heavy with his distaste and simply seems like an egocentric's stumbling attempt to be culturally aware. All of the characters are two-dimensional, including himself. There are moments when he discusses places which may be fascinating, but he provides only minimalist images. Then he continues his diatribe about the difficulty of travel, perhaps injecting a slight historical note or poetic commentary. Even the few things he seems to have enjoyed are described without the color and content which would validate writing a book.
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