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Red Dust: A Path Through China Paperback – November 12, 2002
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In 1983, Ma, tired of life in a China that, he writes, "feels like an old tin of beans that, having lain in the dark for forty years, is beginning to burst at the seams," grew his hair, quit his job, and took to the road. As he recounts in his able--and, at times, very strange--memoir, over the next three years he wandered into the western desert, through the mountains of Shaanxi, down the steamy southern coast, and, eventually, to Tibet. Along the way he slipped by inquisitive police agents, ate dodgy meals, fell in love a time or two, and learned much about his country--more than he bargained on, for, as he writes, "I am exhausted. China is too old, its roots too deep. I feel dirty from the delving."
Ma's travelogue, alternately humorous and sober, offers a constantly illuminating view of life behind the Great Wall. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
In 1983, Ma Jian left Beijing to wander through China's rural countryside. For three years he drifted through the bleak Western provinces, the rich Southeastern part of China and through Tibet. He was 30 years old at the time. He intended "Red Dust" to be an account of his finding himself in the loneliness of the journey. It turned out to be the story of his disillusionment not only with Buddhism but also with the ideas he held about the advantages of the simple life. In the end he finds that he wants to give up his solitary wandering and needs "to live in big cities that have hospitals, bookshops and women."
"Red Dust", published only in 2001, is a starkly realistic portrait of rural China at the beginning of the economic liberalization initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1979. No Westerner would have been able to describe the life of the common people in the impoverished inner provinces of China as precisely and straightforward as Ma Jian. It is a world that is invisible to Western visitors, even if they speak Mandarin. In that sense, "Red Dust" is not required reading for the average traveler in China. But I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the "hidden" life that the majority of the Chinese really live.
"Red Dust" stands out for its unflinching realism and its intimacy with everyday life in China, just as Mark Salzman's "Iron and Silk" (1986) stands out for its sense of humor, Simon Winchester's "The River at the Centre of the World" (1996) for its knowledge and entertaining anecdotes, and Peter Hessler's "River Town" (2001) for its lyrical descriptions of the landscape and its endearing sympathy with the Chinese people.
What makes "Red Dust" valuable is that is a frank, laid-back portrait of "The Real China" (wince) in the early 1980s, a time (unlike now) when few people were writing down such basic observations as this book contains. These observations are not profound, and they ring hollow only when the try to be, but much that is profound can be gleaned from the mundane. A family's eating habits, how easily people can be duped because it is what they want to believe...these are the substance of life, and all the more so in a place where life is so tenuous as in China's interior.
But two aspects of "Red Dust", the account of Ma Jian's three years spent as a Chinese drifter, curdle the incisiveness of his insights. Despite having taken Buddhist vows, and considering himself on something of a pilgrimage for enlightenment, Ma is a rather self-important person, at least as a narrator. Many of the stories he encounters would have told better if he had been able to observe, sometimes, from the sidelines, rather than making it always about him him him. Understandable human trait, but dangerous in literature. A related flaw is the bitterness with which he filters all occurances. China never has - and probably never will be - a place to inspire bounding optimism, but persistant negativity makes a book just unpleasant to read.
The beginning chapters document Ma's life as an artist and bohemian type in Beijing, and are both tedious and hilarious.Read more ›
His writing is really a rambling diary of his bumbling, dirt-cheap, 3-year vagabond tour around China, crashing on and bumming off of friends of other literary or journalist's friends. He is part writer / journalist, part photographer, part poet, part painter, but can't do anything very well (p42), other than shagging women in the same boat. Other women are quite wary of him. One laughs wryly, "The quickest way to commit suicide is to marry an artist (p215)."
His travels start from Beijing, west via train to the deserts of Qinghai, south to Chendu and east via the Yangtze river, then north to Xi'an and further to the Genghis ruins on the desolate Shaanxi steppes along the Yellow river. South through Sichuan and east to Qingdao his birthplace, south along the coast to Shanghai, Canton, Hainan, inland to the Yunnan minority regions, Golden Triangle, and finally Tibet. Certainly a long trek, some with humanity and much in solitary. The situations that he gets himself into can be interesting otherwise it's daily page filler. Sort of a DIY manual on how to hitch for a ride, how to sleep with a roof overhead, and how to sponge a cup of tea or meal off of dolting peasants.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book takes you deeply into post-Mao China in a way no other could. Seen through the eyes of a young man who is on a quest for understanding himself and his country - through... Read morePublished on December 9, 2013 by Susan B Timberlake
Ma Jian is far more than a novelist. Far more than a writer. And most of this book is a true story. This book, as well as any of Ma's uture4 writings, were banned by the Party in... Read morePublished on November 28, 2013 by David Seaman
I read this book with book club and we all admitted we disliked the author after reading his story. Individually we felt guilty not feeling empathy, rejecting a dissident who... Read morePublished on February 27, 2013 by David G
Red Dust takes us to a China we are not usually aware of. Well written, it balances the internal journey of the author with a look at China in the 80's, post Cultural Revolution... Read morePublished on January 21, 2013 by Coffee Road
If you want to know one of the many faces of modern China this book gives you snapshot of what it is like to be an artist in the huge machine that is the PRC. Read morePublished on July 13, 2012 by Elizabeth Ciminelli
I am about half way through this book and I can go no further. Ma Jian travels, he walks, he sleeps, he eats, he writes in his journal, he takes photos. Read morePublished on July 6, 2011 by bittermelon
In 1983, this dissident left a failing marriage, his daughter, and Beijing to wander China three years. Read morePublished on May 21, 2011 by John L Murphy
A daring, utterly honest work that is at the same time NOT self-important as other aspiring travel literature authors are (Yu Qiuyu comes to mind). Read morePublished on July 22, 2009 by T C