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Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China Paperback – August, 1989

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Like a classical Chinese scroll, this book follows a meandering, atmospheric course through China's landscape," reported PW . As the author rambles from exuberant urban centers to farmlands, small towns and villages, "he creates images that linger in memory."
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

After studying Mandarin so that he could communicate, Thubron traveled extensively on his own to many of the less visited (but no less interesting) places in China. Displaying a knack for recording conversations with the ordinary people he met on trains and in monasteries, Thubron is both perceptive and nonjudgmental. His book, reminiscent of Mark Salzman's Iron & Silk ( LJ 2/1/87), is less touristy than those of Paul Theroux and other travel writers. A top choice in a crowded field; for both public and academic libraries. Literary Guild alternate. Harold M. Otness, Southern Oregon State Coll. Lib., Ashland
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

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins (August 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060972564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060972561
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,053,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. A. Krul on February 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Colin Thubron is one of the most prominent living travel authors and his journeys through Asia are justly praised by fans of the genre. He has a peculiar approach to travel writing, by generally going to one country only and then trying to visit as much of it as possible while talking to the maximum amount of people, unlike for example Paul Theroux, who generally writes about travel across many societies. In this book, "Behind the Wall", Thubron takes us on a tour of China, and then I really mean all of China (except Tibet and Manchuria), as it was when he visited it in 1987.

The result is an interesting overview of Chinese society as it was just opening up to foreigners after the long periods of war and revolution. Thubron was by no means the first tourist to do a tour of China since 1949, but he did travel when European tourists were very rare and limited to expensive package deals and the corresponding upper class environment, be it by Chinese standards. He studiously avoids following in their footsteps, and instead tries to take the cheaper hostels, the lower class train carriages and so forth in order to get an impression of real Chinese society as the Chinese experienced it. The degree to which one can do this as a total outsider is still always limited of course, and as any anthropologist knows the very act of being an observant as a stranger can and will change people's behavior. Nonetheless, the rarity of a white foreigner in the places Thubron goes greatly aids him in conversing with a number of random Chinese he meets, and this leads to some interesting conversations and good insight into the diversity of the Chinese peoples as such, 'even' under Communism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
ONE OF THE REVIEWERS DESCRIBED THIS AUTHOR AS A CLOSED MIND CONSERVATIVE ,THIS MADE ME TO PURCHASE
THIS BOOK INMEDIATELY
THIS BOOK IS SET IN CHINA IN 1987, ELEVEN YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF MAO, WHO ALONGSIDE WITH STALIN AND
POL POT STAND AS THE GREATEST MASS MURDERERS OF THE TWENTY CENTURY.
THE AUTHOR GIVES A DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY AND ITS PEOPLE , EMERGING FROM THE MADNESS
OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION.
I SPECIALLY LIKE THE CHAPTER ON CONFUCIUS,WHO HAS BEEN RIGHTLY RESTORED,WHILE MAO HAS BEEN THROWN IN THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY,ALONGSIDE ALL THE COMMUNIST GARBAGE.
OTHER BOOKS BY COLIN THUBRON:
1) SHADOW OF THE SILK ROAD
2)TO A MOUNTAIN IN TIBET
3) AMONG THE RUSSIANS
4)THE LOST HEART OF ASIA
5)IN SIBERIA
THIS BOOK SEXTET MAKES AN EXCELLENT TRAVELOGUE COLLECTION THROUGH THE GREAT LANDMASS OF EURASIA,
FROM THE FROZEN ARTIC IN NORTH SIBERIA TO THE TROPICAL FOREST IN SOUTH CHINA
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Format: Hardcover
This is a rather dated book about Thubron's journey through the Red China of the 1980s. The Wall he is referring to is the Great Wall and he visits both ends of it and meanders around this vast country. As a travel experience, Thubron treats his travel experiences by jumping around. First he tries to describe the countryside, with some flourishing descriptions and this tends to confuse the reader. Perhaps he is writing this for a British audience, but those of us on the other side of the Atlantic have a hard time digesting some of his wordings. He jumps from one experience to the next, so the flow of his writing is rather jolting. Some of his experiences make for good stories, but for the reader to mine this, he is in for an uneven read.
This is an average read because of the flow of the book. For those interested in Red China, this may be of interest. For those interested in travel, there are better travel books out there.
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Format: Paperback
Very informative adventure/travel book about what life in China was like in the mid 1980s. Rare in the sense that the author can actually speak Chinese (Mandarin), so he's not as limited as to who he can speak with as some other travel writers. We get a pretty good cross-section of Chinese people--farmers, businessmen, city dwellers, homemakers, university students. Also of interest is the author's exploration of the generation that came of age during the Cultural Revolution, and that missed out on the usual educational opportunities. I like the details, like how eating an owl, feathers and all, is supposed to cure epilepsy. This is a great read if you are interested in learning more about such an important place.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Colin Thubron is one of th best ever english language travel writers. I have read all of his books and this is the last one that I have read. Having never been to China this book gave me some insights into the land and its people.

Now I too want to travel in China and maybe learn some mandarin to make the trip more enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have a deep interest in China. I'm studying spoken Chinese, I read almost every book I can find about 20th Century China, I plan to visit within the next 5 years. But this author's writing is almost indecipherable to me.
Here is just one example paragraph; nearly every page has one like it. (From page 73): "Where the Great Wall joined the city parapets, they erupted into a temple-crowned gateway blazoned 'The First Pass Under Heaven'. Once it guarded the battle-scarred road to Manchuria, and as I climbed it an angled outwork rose still formidable into view, and a half-emptied moat soggy with rice and cabbages. To the south the Wall lunged toward the sea through hovels where white-haired piglets scampered; here and there the villagers had burrowed their way clean through it, or stripped off its bricks three deep to expose a stupendous core of rubble. But to the north, after stumbling brokenly over the plain, the monster lifted bastion upon bastion into the hills, zigzagged along razor peaks and plunging declivities, scaled the furthest precipices in a megalomaniac sliver and disappeared into cloud-patterned mountains."
I consider myself an educated person but I cannot make heads or tails of this description. He loses me with misplaced clauses and unnecessarily complicated words and I begin to wonder if I'm the problem, since 'The Times' ranked him 45th of the 50 greatest postwar British writers.
If you understand and appreciate writing like the paragraph above, send me your address and you can have my book.
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