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Passport to Peking: A Very British Mission to Mao's China Hardcover – 28 Oct 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (28 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199541930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199541935
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3.8 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 847,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


A book bulging with anecdotes and digressions (Neal Ascherson, London Review of Books)

Highly enjoyable...thoughtful and closely researched...His portrait of Spencer in particular is a work of comic genius (Dominic Sandbrook, The New Republic)

A brilliant feat of research...The result is a tour de force, erudite, funny, endlessly revealing and generously illustrated. (John Keay, Times Literary Supplement)

...this is a fascinating recreation of a moment in British political and cultural history. (History Today)

Acerbic and fair-minded. . . social comedy with a rueful edge (Wall Street Journal)

Entertaining. (The New Yorker)

Wright weaves this complex narrative with aplomb. (New Scientist)

Patrick Wright's history of their eccentric trips is learned and charming. (Boyd Tonkin, The Independent)

In his astonishing last half-dozen books, he has established himself not only as the champion ironist and caustic critic of that weird historical compound,'Englishness', but also a social historian of an inimitable kind. (Fred Inglis, The Independent)

As ever with Wright's work the sheer density of thought, allusion and fact is staggering - but what is more amazing is the deftness with which he spins from this a gossamer and entrancing narrative thread. (Will Self)

An impressive and unusual book... that succeeds by presenting a wonderful cast of characters set in a dimly remembered period... a depth and resonance that make it more than the sum of its considerable parts. (Jonathan Fenby, Literary Review)

About the Author

Patrick Wright is a writer and broadcaster with an interest in the cultural dimensions of modern life. He is the author of a number of highly acclaimed best-selling history books, including The Village that Died for England, Tank (described by Simon Schama as 'a tour de force'), and Iron Curtain, which John le Carre described as 'a work of wit, style and waggish erudition.' He has written for many magazines and newspapers, including the London Review of Books, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Independent, and the Observer, and has made numerous documentaries on cultural themes for both BBC Radio 3 and 4. His television work includes The River, a four-part BBC2 series on the Thames. He is also a Professor at the Institute for Cultural Analysis at Nottingham Trent University, and a fellow of the London Consortium.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Again Patrick Wright has written a very perceptive and very entertaining book. He has the track record of the Iron Curtain and The Village that Died.
What he is so good at is pulling together the strands of absolutely solidly researched history, ( with exhaustive footnotes ), political analysis and human interest, all in a very readable and flowing style.
The continuing theme is that the visitors saw what they expected to see. ( We all do ). The twist and contrast is the the visit of the Cultural Delegation, where the artists saw things from a different perspective.
The book includes many of their drawings.
I visited China, ( and the USSR ), a great deal in the 1970s - 20 years later. However the atmosphere of the place feels just right. ( Those 20 years of course had the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution - but that's another story ! )
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By Mr. G. Morgan TOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 May 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am used to finding solidly researched, idiosyncratic history from Wright and once more he does not disappoint. Chronicling a journey made in the 1950's at a time when Mao was firmly established in China, this jolly group on board for China are politicians with Stanley Spencer thrown in for good measure. The irony is that the Cookham Christman emerges as the unlikely hero of the trip and his illustrations are of his usual high standard. Well shepherded as they were, this troupe were not able to see much that the Maoists didn't want them to - much as visitors to the USSR were unable to see anything but Potemkin villages. This book tells you as much about the dynamics of the group of travellers as it does about China, but the oblique nature of Chinese bureaucrats emerges as an interesting, unsurprising matter. As the saying goes, the journey is as important as the destination and you will enjoy this trip by some unusual characters in somewhat straitened conditions.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a massive study of several trips made to China in the early fifties by several parties of British politicians and artistic figures. The accounts of the trips are inteeresting but the book is perhaps made overlong by very detailed accounts of the previous activities of the people involved. There's also extensive coverage of what they did in the USSR en route to China. For people really interested in the early days of Mao's China.
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Format: Hardcover
the title suggests real interest. However it proves to be a tired descripion of a dull group made up mostly of Labour politicians seeing restricted sights in the opressive China of the time.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 3 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting Western view of the early PRC 11 Sept. 2016
By Howard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An interesting book that illuminates well the nature of official dealing with the fledgling Peoples Republic of China as well as the interesting characters of the credulous fellow travellers , jaded Labour Party politicians, alcoholic Trotskyists and eccentric artists that made up the British delegations to the new communist behemoth.

The details of how the Chinese side presented the carefully crafted and fairly artificial image of new China to the Western visitors makes for interesting reading and has much in common with what a Western tourist in North Korea today would experience than that of a contemporary tourist in the PRC, notwithstanding the artificial shut down of Hangzhou last week (at time of writing). China nowadays is of course far more open, but the uncompromising insistence on the official version of reality and the brazenly self-interested interpretation of historical and political events remains.

The details of the the travel arrangements are, on their own, interesting stories - particularly the stop off in Russia. There are certainly familiar echoes for those of us who have travelled around Asia.

One minor criticism would be that I believe the author falls in to the common trap of assuming that Zhou Enlai was somehow a great guy. There have been plenty of charming psychopaths in history and being the human face of Maoism doesn’t require very much humanity at all! I would argue that Zhou was merely more conscious of the fact that the various crimes of Mao and the Communists would inevitably come out at some point and he quietly made sure he was politically well positioned to look like a break on the madness instead of a complicit part of it when the inevitable critical historical scrutiny comes to the Mainland.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 1 April 2017
By Beeyung - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
great book
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fellow Travelers 21 Feb. 2011
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
When the revolutionary People's Republic of China came into being out of the ashes of World War II, it was firmly in the orbit of the USSR with the United States hostile to its existence. While the government of Great Britain was supportive of the United States, many of that country's artists, intellectuals and labor leaders favored the overthrow of Chinese warlords, wicked land-owners, and corrupt politicians: they celebrated the arrival of a clean communist state of the workers.

Patrick Wright's book tells the story, from a British perspective, of a number of these left-leaning, if not communist, individuals (mostly men but a few women) who made their way in the early 1950s to Mao's new China.

While the central focus of the book is on the PRC, there is a good amount of interesting material on travel through Russia while en route to the Middle Kingdom.

One comes away from reading this book with a reminder of how hard it was to travel long distances in the days before commercial jets; how isolated China was from the Western world; how the success of group travel always comes down to individuals; how truth fell victim to the needs of the new rulers; and how innocent were these good people of the terror that Mao would soon unleash on his country's people. I most appreciated the cultural and political comparisons made by the author related to art and artists, specifically telling insights involving Paul Hogarth and Stanley Spencer.
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