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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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