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Invisible China: A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands Hardcover – May 1, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556528140
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556528149
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This odyssey—spanning 14,000 miles in four months—details China's rich diversity in a narrative jeweled with dazzling descriptions but lacking analysis. Legerton and Rawson, graduate students in the region's language and history, meander along the Silk Road, reporting on various hidden minorities and gaining extraordinary access to people's lives and homes. However, they take much of what they are told at face value and provide only superficial analysis of their ambitious undertaking. This is unfortunate because their sources and observations speak directly to the intersection of politics and culture that came to the fore in the days before Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. It is only in the afterword that they make explicit the link between China's official party line on minorities and what they witnessed. Nor do they attempt to explain what forces maintained China's cohesion over the turbulent past half-century. Despite these structural weaknesses, this is a spectacular achievement reminiscent of early 20th-century anthropological monographs by Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, with much to charm readers in search of a travelogue on China's remote border and interior regions. (May)
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From Booklist

Students of Chinese and other Asian languages, Legerton and Rawson took their linguistic skills to the geographic periphery of China in 2006 and again in 2007. They sought members of the country’s non-Han minorities to learn about their lives, paying attention to their attitudes toward the majority Han. Upon arrival in some obscure town or village, they asked for a good place to eat, a query that yielded productive encounters with people and their cuisine as well as with local sites significant to them. As they narrate this method of introducing themselves, Legerton and Rawson interject explanations of policies, historical and current, of the central government toward ethnic minorities, such as religious persecution during the Cultural Revolution. They heard complaints about the Han, but making a livelihood was the predominant concern they discovered among Koreans, Mongolians, Uyghers, and several other of China’s 50-plus officially categorized ethnicities. Seemingly unfazed by rough accommodations and unusual foods, Legerton and Rawson eschew flourishes and hew to description in imparting their experiences for travel readers intrigued by China’s remote regions. --Gilbert Taylor

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By McDisco on May 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Invisible China challenges some of the fundamental assumptions that Westerners maintain about China and the people in it. Myths like: "All Chinese use chopsticks," "All Chinese have dark hair," and "All Chinese speak Chinese," are shown to be false.

This is 225 pages of bald reporting. The authors, to their credit, insert very few of their own opinions, opting instead to broadcast dozens of local voices that very, very few English speakers would otherwise hear, from sites that Western tourists will never visit. What looks like a backwater village on the map more often than not turns out to be a swirling vortex of cultures, battered on all sides by conflicting cultural and ethnic influences.

Contradictions are aired shamelessly, proving the old maxim that China is impossible to summarize. This China, anyway, the China in Invisible China, is one that most of us didn't know existed.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kit Paulsen on May 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I expected invisible China to be a fairly dry, intellectual review of Chinese minorities. I couldn't have been farther from the truth. The book has travel-log appeal, dry wit, and an understated nature that is delightful to read and surprises you with the amount of history and background you learn. The authors do not intrude with their experiences as much as they allow you to feel as though you have had chance encounters with individuals who have interesting stories to share.

I sincerely hope these two authors continue to explore and write about the country and people they meet.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Allison Lyzenga on May 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I can only dream of being this adventurous. This is a fantastic travelogue taking readers into isolated regions of China that the rest of us can only fantasize about visiting. And it is quite an eye-opener as well. The book provides a report on Chinese government policy toward its minority citizens, and it isn't always pretty. In fact, it rarely is. This is a must-read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Henry D. Gerlits on November 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Armed with guitar, wits, and a biting sense of humor, Rawson and Legerton ramble through lesser-known areas of China, meeting people and asking questions about the life and treatment of China's minorities. From drinking with local communist party leaders, to playing guitar with headhunters, to translating (for the first time in the West) Vietnamese/Chinese fishermen songs, to being mistaken for Soviets, the pages of "Invisible China" never cease to amaze. So many of us have dreamed of wandering into villages far from home like old-time adventurers and just opening our minds and hearts to those we might encounter - Rawson and Legerton show us how it's done.

Many travel books these days are written by those who, though well-meaning, have little or no knowledge of the country's native language. Rawson's knowledge of Korean and Legerton's of Uyghur, in addition to the pair's mastery of Chinese, has allowed them to have deep conversations about everything from politics to philosophy to hopes for the future with people whose voices are seldom heard in the West.

Combining the best elements of informative nonfiction and good old-fashioned travel writing, "Invisible China" will make you chuckle, raise your eyebrows, and scramble to Wikipedia to learn more, often in the same page. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 19, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm a professor of anthropology and I help advise many students who conduct research on ethnic minorities in China. I read this book to brush up on my knowledge of the area and get a good, bird's eye view of China's minzu since my own area of speciality is the Pacific. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone -- professor or not -- who wants an introduction to this topic for several reasons.

The book is very clearly written and divided into a number of short chapters, which means it is really easy to get through. It just flies by -- which is great. What's more, the authors have clearly done their homework. Although most non-anthropologists won't notice, the authors have quietly read and taken on-board the work of important experts in the field such as Magnus Fiskejo, Dru Gladney, and Stevan Harrell. So they clearly know their stuff.

Because the book is a travelogue most of the details about the ethnic groups are 'particularistic' and 'episodic'. There is not a lot of "The X do this... Y houses are constructed this way..." Rather you get "Mr. A gave us a bowl of B" and "the house we entered was like C". This is nice -- you get real stories of real people and learn about various ethnicities through these experiences. This is a much more vivid approach then an abstract description that fills some books. The prose is very clear and quiet, and doesn't go out of its way to emphasize how exotic their experiences were. Although some people may have wanted more commentary or analysis, I think the book's strength is its straightforward account of their travels. Their attention to detail, thoroughness, and desire to engage others is admirable and the book is extremely well done.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! As I have primarily been interested in Latin America I wasn't sure if I would really want to read a whole book about China's minorities. However, Invisible China is well written and excellently paced travel writing that pulls the reader in.

I was intrigued to learn the answers to the questions that the writers posed to their new local friends, and found it such a treat to share their travel experiences with them. I don't anticipate being fluent in Chinese and Uyghur in this lifetime, but felt like I was really transported to these borderlands and learning firsthand about these minority cultures, their challenges and their tenuous relations with the Chinese government. I think that this is an important book and urge more people to pick it up to learn about the minority peoples that the Chinese government does not want you to really see or learn about.
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