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Behind the Wall: Journey Through China [Hardcover]

Colin Thubron
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

14 Sep 1987

Having learned Mandarin, and travelling alone by foot, bicycle and train, Colin Thubron set off on a 10,000 mile journey from Beijing to the borders of Burma. He travelled through the wind-swept wastes of the Gobi desert and finished at the far end of the Great Wall.

What Thubron reveals is an astonishing diversity, a land whose still unmeasured resources strain to meet an awesome demand, and an ancient people still reeling from the devastation of the Cultural Revolution.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd; 1st edition (14 Sep 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434779881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434779888
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 957,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A distinguished travel writer and novelist, Colin Thubron was named by the Times as one of the fifty greatest post-war writers. His books include Among the Russians, Behind the Wall, In Siberia and the New York Times bestseller Shadow of the Silk Road. He has won many awards.

Product Description

Review

"An achievement of great and lasting brilliance" (Patrick Leigh Fermor)

"This transcendentally gifted writer is, of course, one of the two or three best living travel writers" (Independent)

"A travel book which tells us more about this strange, sometimes terrible region and its people than a library of more pretentious works" (Literary Review)

"An intrepid traveller, who also writes beautifully, with wit and erudition... The result is a rare first-hand account of a country seen through the eyes of one who has experienced what he describes and who is in a position to understand what he sees... He penetrates where most would believe it is impossible for a foreigner to go" (Spectator) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Winner of the Hawthornden Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a very important book 20 Oct 2004
Format:Paperback
After being deeply affected by the horror encountered reading Wild Swans I really wanted to find out more about post-Mao China. What better place to look than this! Although it was written in the eighties, the book does portray flashes of hope for one of the most traumatised nations of modern history. Western influences were already creeping in then - TV, fashion, music... and people were starting to think that there is more to life than communism. (although this was not to be easily discovered!). Yet with quality of life being the poorest of the poor china still has a long way to go!
Mr Thubron has an incredibly perceptive nature. He has an amazing talent to spot a multitude of unspoken words in the tiniest change of expression on someones face, and to describe a multitude of political and emotional concepts in a single sentence. His style of writing may be cumbersome to some, but its well worth getting used to the elaborate words in order to gain one of the most profound western insights into the country imaginable.
Mr Thubron leaves no stone unturned, he remarks on the tiniest details around him and the most trivial of thoughts that would be irrelevant to most, and weaves these into the overall tapestry of his chapter. Nothing is beneath him, he really immerses himself into Chinese culture and engages with Chinese living and thinking. This is what makes him such a unique travel writer. He has so many perspectives. He writes with humour, compassion, detachment, artistic descriptiveness, political knowledge and worldly intelligence, yet he also brings a reassuring touch, human feeling that readers can connect with.
This is the nearest you can get to a virtual trip into China. His books about Russia and Siberia are just as profound, I'm looking forward to reading the rest... !
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars China, 1980 style 11 Feb 2009
Format:Paperback
Thubron's typical eclectic mix of people, lifestyles, places, scenery, history, myth and politics, brings post-revolutionary China to vivid life as he travels north to south, east to west. While undoubtedly China has moved on since his journey, this book reveals as much about the minds and attitudes of its 1980s population as it does about the cities and countryside, industry and wildernesses.
Read this, if you can, before The Lost Heart of Asia and Shadow of the Silk Road. I didn't, and wish I had, although it didn't prevent me from falling under Thubron's narrative spell.
One small downside: I do wish there had been more and better maps. I had to keep referring to my own atlas (or looking on the web) to find out exactly where he was ...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent travel book about 1980s China 13 Mar 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tale of a people rather than a country 28 Mar 2009
By Hayles
Format:Paperback
This is a fantastic insight into the people of China as discovered by Thurbon during various visits in the 1980s. Those who have been to China may recognise parts of the country he describes but you don't need to be a seasoned traveller to enjoy the tales of the people he meets along the way. Rather than long discriptions of places or monuments this is a look a the people affected by so many massive cultural changes in this fascinating country. It may be dated in parts but if accepted as of of its time it is a great read. An easy writing style - giving the people he meets the voice to express their hopes, dreams and fears - makes this a joy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside of the most mysterious world 8 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback
Colin Thubron is a masterpiece travel writer who has produced a number of fascinating accounts of the mysterious world, which are not widely known. "Inside of the Great Wall" is one of them.

He travelled through and roamed through the rural villages, hamlets, and military zones, and farming communities near the borders of Vietnam, Mongolia, India and Tibet in the 1980s, as well as strolling through big cities, all of which had just open to the West. He had met various people including former political prisoners and families of the victims of the Cultural Revolution, and provides descriptive accounts based on ancient to modern history, politics, agriculture, forestry, economics, education, life of political prisoners, which sounds worse than Soviet's Gulag, geography, and a huge variety of beasts which Chinese have eaten, e.g. dog's brain, cat, snake, to name just a few. He even tells about peculiar and unimaginative food stuff with stinky smells and hideous appearance which he saw in the supermarkets in the 1980s. He includes a very interesting but understandable fact that many of the rural Chinese people do not know the location of Great Britain or elsewhere other than their world.

In reference of the modern history, Chinese government have proposed and implemented one-child polity in the urban areas and two children policy in the rural areas to curb the population. Despite the effort, China's population is still growing and the punishment of people losing the properties and jobs undertaken and its harshness has been criticised by the western media.

If you wish to study in-depth of China and people, this is the book you should read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars China
This book was well-written like all C. Thubron's books. I could not read the map which was annoying as I could not locate the places. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Gibbs
2.0 out of 5 stars china
This whinging author has an interesting tale to tell of his many thousand mile journey through China by foof,bike,car,boat,train and plane when he meets interesting people(but his... Read more
Published 14 months ago by G. I. Forbes
5.0 out of 5 stars Thubron raises the bar of travel writing to an astonishing level
Colin Thubron writes of places and people using his poet's eye in clear, concise and beautifully constructed English; no travel writer that I know of can hold a candle to him. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Chris Belton
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
I loved seeing China behind this man's eyes. Acute witty observation from the author coupled with a learning experience for me - great combination. Highly recommended.
Published 15 months ago by Escaladieu
4.0 out of 5 stars rather grim post revolution China of the 1980's
Colin Thubron in Behind the Wall presents a rather grim post revolution 1980's China. He visits different places starting off in Beijing but what gives the book its main tone is... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mr. Robert Marsland
5.0 out of 5 stars Colin Thubron is eXpAt-tAcULar
Colin Thubron has authored 30 books about his adventures as a world traveler. In Behind the Wall, Thubron shares the China-based portion of his journey, offering insight into... Read more
Published on 9 Jun 2011 by Xiamen Expat
5.0 out of 5 stars Travel guide with a difference
I took this book with me on our family trip to China. We were also armed with the more conventional guide books. Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2009 by Victoria Steiner
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