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on 9 July 2011
This is a magical book. It transports the reader to an appreciation of old China - that existed thousands of years ago, and continued to exist up until 1949. The author, Bill Porter, whilst living in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan, decided to travel to mainland China in May of 1989, in search of any still existing hermits of the Chinese religious systems. In so doing, inadvertently, Porter witnessed the political turmoil of the time, that culminated in the tragic events surrounding the student pro-democracy demonstrations in Tienanmen Square of the same year. This book does not dwell on these events, but meanders through valleys and climbs mountains throughout central and southeast China in search of the isolated holy ones. Porter is assisted on this quest by photographer Steven R Johnson.

The paperback (1993) edition contains 220 numbered pages, numerous photographs and illustrations, a list of Chinese dynasties and republics, and 12 chapters:

1) Hermit Heaven.
2) Mountains of the Moon.
3) If the World is Muddy.
4) On the Trail of the Tao.
5) Sound of the Crane.
6) Road to Heaven.
7) Cloud People.
8) The Bird That Is the Mountain.
9) Crossing Heartbreak Ridge.
10) Home of the Evening Star.
11) Visiting Wang Wei, Finding Hime Gone.
12) When the Tao Comes to Town.

This book firmly establishes the fact that despite the political upheavel China and her people have experienced over the last 100 years, and despite the changes in ideology, nevertheless, the tradition of the Chinese hermit still persists. Porter describes how he encountered an old man living in a cave who had been there since 1939, and had never heard the name 'Mao Zedong'. The local villagers supported him with food and clothing. It is unlikely that he is the only one. Porter also visits the government established temples, and talks with their inhabitants. By and large, many of these temples have been allowed to recruit monks and nuns in recent years, to serve in the tourist trade, and as a consequence, seldom experience the required solitude to work on their meditation or read the scriptures.

However, the situation is not lost. Porter's research shows that China's deep spirituality has had to adapt yet again to a new set of physical circumstances, and as a consequence, there is much to feel hopeful about. Throughout the book, Porter references both Buddhist and Daoist philosophy, and quotes liberally (and correctly) from ancient Chinese texts such as the Daodejing, Zhuangzi and Shanhaijing, etc. His numerous interviews are fascinating in a number of ways, and the diversity of opinion shows clearly that China can not be easily summed-up in a simple either/or format. Porter's physical journey is in fact a spiritual journey in disguise. As such, there is a bit of everything to interest the general reader. A very good and uplifting book.
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on 31 October 2006
Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits is an extraordinary tale of one man's persistance to delve deeply into the journey of solitude taken by master's of the art. His profiles of Chinese hermits offer glimpses into the lives of these men that inspire the search that many of us make to live lives that make room for solitude whether it is for a few minutes, hours or days. While most of us cannot or will not retreat deep into the mountains or forests to enter solitude, this book reminds us that each can make his own journey inward and find meaning in even the briefest moments of solitude. This rich tapestry of stories shows that there is as many ways to embrace and honor solitude as there are people who seek it.
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on 4 October 2004
I'm not entirely sure what the reader from Linthicum, MD expected out of a book of travel writing if not stories of the author's travels. My only criticism of Porter's book is that we don't get enough of what makes this book most interesting, not the long-winded histories of ancient China but the more-personal anecdotes, the conversations between himself and the hermits he encounters on his search. For me, these were the most memorable parts of the book, and I found myself skimming through the background information to get back to precisely what the previous reader has criticised: Porter writing about where he went, how he got there, and whom he met.

Porter travels between numerous monasteries-turned-tourist-destinations enquiring as he goes about those who have fled the noise of modernity and taken up the eremitic lifestyle. His successes are few but fascinating, as Porter follows his leads off the beaten path and treks across forbidding landscapes in search of hermits that preserve a bit of ancient China, recluses whom China's Cultural Revolution has passed by unnoticed (like the monk who wonders about this 'Chairman Mao' Porter keeps mentioning). In the end, Porter's book reflects what you'd expect of China's Buddhist and Taoist hermits: They are few and far between, and their homes remote and well isolated. But the few treasures that Porter does uncover makes his book well worth the read.
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on 24 December 1997
Bill Porter is all talk and walk. We are glad he had so much fun hiking around China - it is something not many of us get the opportunity to do. We are glad he found a purpose for his wandering - most people know that purposeless wandering can cause a miriad of emotional and mental diseases. We are glad he takes an interest in the lives of those singular people who live in solitude in an environment that is politically, physically, mentally and spiritually challenging.
However, Porter seems to be the kind of person who is the first to arrive for a party and the last to leave - he is the dreaded one who spends the entire party boring the other guests to near-mortification with endless stories that somehow all have a common thread - himself!!
Please, Bill, keep walking! You need a few more roads under your belt before you will get the true essence of what these hermits are living for into your heart. Now the essence is lost in the crowded vault of your brain, which is too full of words, events, and ego to catch and communicate the subtlty of these lives. We want to know more about the fascinating hermits, and less about your rather predictable cogitations while you walk the roads to their huts.
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on 11 October 2014
Good quality book
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on 10 January 2015
wonderful book
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