Red Dust

Red Dust

A Path Through China

Book - 2001
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1983 Ma Jian, a photographer, painter, poet, and writer, set out for the most remote and roughest parts of China. Dispirited and fearful, accused at work of having "a sluggish mentality," confronted with a failed marriage, an estranged young daughter, and a girlfriend involved with another man, he abandons Beijing and a life he can no longer endure. Red Dust is the account of his travels, a remarkably written and subtly moving journey toward understanding. A dropout, a fugitive from the police, a Buddhist in search of enlightenment, Ma Jian embarks on a three-year trek that takes him from the deepest south to the western provinces and Tibet, journeying across deserts, over mountains, through icy rivers. And as he travels to increasingly remote areas, his circumstances become increasingly straitened: He stays in filthy inns, sleeping four to a plank bed, learning to wait until his companions fall asleep and then lying on top of them. To support himself, he buys a pair of scissors and becomes a roadside barber, sells scouring powder as tooth whitener, lives by his wits posing as an enlightened religious man. His sense of humor and sanity keep him intact--"Danger is not exciting," he tells a friend, "it's just proof of your incompetence." The greatest hardship he faces is disappointment--or perhaps his own honesty. Tibet offers no enlightenment ("Is Buddha saving man or is man saving Buddha?" he asks); his own restlessness undermines his yearning for love. Ma Jian's portrait of his country provides no understanding of its enigmas, no neat generalizations, no sweeping predictions. It simply reminds us of China's scale, its shadows, and, ultimately, its otherness.
Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books c2001.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780375420597
Characteristics: 324 p. : maps ; 25 cm.
Additional Contributors: Drew, Flora


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Jan 23, 2019

I read the original version and not this English version. Assuming the translator did a decent job, and there is no reason that it didn't as this book won the Thomas Cook Travel Literature Award, readers interested in China would get a lot out of it from multiple perspectives. I am quite familiar with recent history of China and the last 5000 years of Chinese history and culture. I still got a lot out of reading it besides enjoying the style that he presented his three years spent wandering to find his life's direction through thick and thin, risking his life in a few occasions.

Jun 22, 2016

Very stilted writing and lots of gaps in his travels but I was compelled to finish this book. Such a wildly different culture and interesting to see how others who are so controlled see their world despite such tremendous hardships. A good book.

Jul 28, 2014

Poetic narrative of Ma Jian's journey of national and self discovery. Travel with Ma Jian through 1980's China, just emerging from Mao's Cultural Revolution. Ma Jian's search through remote minority villages, far flung stretches of desert and cramped crowed cities is worth sharing the journey. Wonderful book!

Jun 14, 2014

I find the writing rather raw and unfinished, and the author self-obsessed and unlikeable. But it does give some insight into the China of that time.


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