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


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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: 6.9 x 4.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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

I highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern China and some humor.
M. Eugeni
I certainly hope it is not, but Theroux's style and detailed observations of miniscule events make this a very interesting, graphic read.
CGScammell
Riding the Iron Rooster is great literature for anyone who loves adventure travel.
Dagmar F. Pelzer

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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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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9 of 9 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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By M. Eugeni on February 4, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was assigned this book for a class in modern Asian history. The professor was deadly dull, but I'm glad I took the class because it led me to Paul Theroux. In RtIR I found some of the funniest and most memorable bits of nonfiction in my life. China is a truly unique place and Theroux seems very well suited to its mysteries.
The author has made a career out of sharing his wit and wisdom about his travels in the world (fiction as well as non). As in all his travel tales, Theroux points out everything odd and fascinating to him along his route to and through the area he's focused on, including meaningful chunks of local history, literature, and cultural background. This is very literate travel writing and, taken with a grain of salt, can be highly educational though parts are a bit dated now.
You'll learn nearly as much about Theroux (or the character of Theroux, travel writer) as you do about the place. There is no story here: this is travel writing and you must go with the flow or put the book down. But the payoffs are tremendous; there are always dozens of "I gotta read this to somebody" passages in Theroux books. This one is no exception. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern China and some humor.
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