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Riding the Iron Rooster Mass Market Paperback – March 28, 1989

94 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Theroux (The Old Patagonian Express, The Great Railway Bazaar) spent a year exploring China by train, and his impressions about what has and has not changed in the country, as gathered in hundreds of conversations with Chinese citizens, make up a large portion of the book. The Cultural Revolution and the vandalism of the Red Guards have left scars on both the land and the people. Mao's death brought a collective sigh of relief from the population; reforms brought about under Deng Xiaoping have generally been welcomed. Still, this is not a political book. Whether describing his dealings with a rock-hard bureaucracy, musing over the Chinese flirtation with capitalismthey've "turned the free market into a flea market"or commenting on the process of traveling, Theroux conducts the reader through this enormous country with wisdom, humor and a crusty warmth. Along the way are anecdotes about classic Chinese pornography (forbidden to the citizenry, but all right for "foreign friends"); 35-below-zero weather; the Chinese penchant for restructuring nature; and the omnipresent thermos of hot water for making tea. The last chapter, "The Train to Tibet," deals with the extremes to which the Chinese have gone in their attempts to subjugate the Tibetan people. Theroux develops an understanding of China through his travels, but he falls in love with Tibet. As in his previous works, he gives the reader much to relish and think about. BOMC featured selection.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Theroux's penchant for train travel is well knownhis Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express are modern travel classics. On his latest jaunt he takes almost a year to crisscross China, traveling on 40 trains from the southern tropics to the wastelands of the Gobi in western Xinjiang to the dense metropolises of Shanghai, Beijing, and Canton. What emerges is a curious melange of ancient and modern: while some things are literally changing overnight, the Chinese still manufacture spittoons and steam engines. For Theroux, traveling is both about peopletheir thoughts, customs, and peculiaritiesand a form of autobiography, and here we learn as much about his own quirks and fancies as we do about the intriguing world of contemporary China. Laurence Hull, Cannon Memorial Lib., Concord, N.C.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ivy Books (March 28, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804104549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804104548
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,299,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 22, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a well-written literay account of Theroux's travels through the difficult land of modern China. I first read this while living in (British) Hong Kong and making trips to and through the mainland. I have never laughed so much at the crazy predicaments Theroux gets himself into or observes (many the same as I was experiencing), and was struck not only at the quality of his writing but how rare a writer he is for covering this difficult and insecure part of the world.
What shines through in the pages of this book is that Theroux the writer is beholden to no one; he delivers accuracy of description everytime, and while this is the essence of a good travel writer, it is not a trait relished by governments out east like China's, where in fact the culture demands "saving face" over telling the blunt truth (see Bo Yang's book The Ugly Chinaman for an in-depth account of this fascinating aspect of Chinese culture). Even some westerners who live out East (and might like us to think of the Third World as some kind of paradise posting) can get upset at this kind of sober truth-telling about "their" China. For the detached reader, Theroux's book is an honest, funny, non-spin-doctored account.
If you like this book, try Theroux's Kowloon Tong, his Hong Kong novel banned in China, a very accurate depiction of that small city and the people (both westerners and easterners) who lived in it at the time of the Handover (I read it while living there). Timothy Mo's The Monkey King is another classic China novel about an eccentric Chinese family - a witty, poignant tale, and a book so on the mark that, if anything, it was even more attacked by certain frumps out East than Kowloon Tong!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By SharonL on January 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I actually read this book nearly twenty years ago and have never forgotten it. I was so pleased to find it available at Amazon.com. One of the things that especially stuck with me was the eating habits of the Chinese at that time---fascinating! Never forgotten was the pail of eels in the "bathroom" ready for the evening meal.
This reading I was able to take more time with the book and get more out of it because I wasn't working and raising three children. I even looked up Paul Theroux on Encarta to get a feel for his personality.
This is a fabulous armchair travel of China, a detailed description of the beautiful, the ugly and the strange parts of that vast country. I highly recommend it!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By N. Nelson on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an often hilarious and extremely informative look into Chinese culture and geography from a travel standpoint. Very enjoyable for anyone who likes Chinese culture, as well as those who know little to nothing about it (which was once me). It was on a college class list of mine, but now I buy it for people. A good read, tho he does get slightly vulgar from time to time.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
While a little slow in getting up a head of steam, "Riding the Iron Rooster" makes for a captivating read. The wonderful places that Mr. Theroux visits and the diverse characters of the people he encounters and details in the pages of this twelve-month odyssey places the reader in a virtual world - right upon the train with him. China has certainly changed immensely since the mid 1980s when this account was authored, but Theroux's writings lends great insight into the national psyche that prevailed during the decade following Mao's death and the end of the Cultural Revolution. With especially the latter, Theroux seems obsessed - be it Shaoshan where Mao was born, mighty Shanghai or isolated Tibet, he relates the present-day to events from the mid-1960s, usually via the often ghoulish memories of local citizens. He offers criticisms and praises where he feels they are due. For me though the highlight comes through rich descriptions of the places to where he travels. Theroux visits dozens of localities which will remain but mere place-names on a map for the vast majority of his readers. However, through his writings one is privileged to share such sights as the isolated grandeur of the Xinjiang desert as he coasts along by steam-drawn train. The rugged mountain scenery of Sichuan is also memorable but with the unforgettable account of his journey across the Tibetan Plateau in a dilapidated old taxi (with an even worse for wear driver), he saves his best for last.
In an instant I would recommend this book to any traveler contemplating a trip to China. Mr. Theroux touches upon almost every place of interest in this fascinating land and lends a unique perspective into the Chinese persona. While an obvious allowance is needed for the political, social and economic changes that have occurred over the past 15 years, "Riding the Iron Rooster" remains a useful if not valuable travel companion.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Neil Cotiaux on September 2, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Paul Theroux has always had an extremely sharp eye for detail, and an even sharper pen with which to mold these observations into telling, sometimes ascerbic commentary. In "Riding The Iron Rooster", Theroux is at the top of his form in capturing the flavor and collective psyche of mainland China during the last quarter of the 20th Century.
One of the more revealing angles put forth in "Iron Rooster" is the face-saving that the Chinese government has engaged in with respect to The Cultural Revolution. Everyone knows that what Mao Tse Tung did was monstrous, but few in China appear willing to own up to the magnitude of the sin in any public way; so half-measures are taken to pay "proper respect" to Mao at just the appropriate place and just the appropriate time.
The author also nicely captures the first wave of pro-capitalist fervor that began engulfing China in the late 80's. But the core of Theroux's book, as always, are the vivid snapshots of the customs, foibles and mores that constitute a culture.
Reading "Iron Rooster" as I boarded a plane in Hong Kong in 1994, I discovered I was about to experience, first-hand, the aeronautical and social turbulence that the author ascribed to Chinese plane travel. By the time I landed in Guangxi Province, all of his observations had been confirmed.
"Riding The Iron Rooster" is vintage Theroux - insightful, droll, always pleasurable.
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