Behind the Wall review æ 108

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Having learned Mandarin and travelling alone by foot bicycle and train Colin Thubron sets off on a mile journey from Beijing to Tibet starting from a tropical. Interesting but dated view of China as seen through the eyes of a British traveller in the 1980 s Not only has the country changed enormously since then but also the way the West looks at China The condescension and borderline racist statements by the author would be strange and unacceptable in a contemporary book about China

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Behind the Wall

Y 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. One thing I ve noticed in the four Colin Thubron books I ve read so far all involving travel somewhere in Asia is that he seems to have a knack for discovering the most unpleasant people in whatever country China in this case he s touringHe is in Nanjing I think on Page 101 when he makes an ill fated call on the family of an acuaintance from Beijing Here s a glimpse of what happens I had always conceived of the Chinese family as a stereotype of unity and closeness But soon I realised that the war between mother in law and daughter in law was being waged in iron silences Compared to the old couple conservative parents Hua was the daughter of a once discredited bourgeoisie voluble raw overbearingThe Suzhou girl was unorthodox too She could scarcely bear the sight of her own three year old son an electric urchin with a sprout of chimney brush hair The cliches of family unity were dropping dead about me a mother who hated her son a niece who despised her aunt a domineering daughter in lawIt gets worse After a dreadful meal he agrees to go to the home of Hua the daughter in law He spends the night there in the company of three females Hua her 88 year old mother and a 13 year old named Yulong who isn t directly related to either of the others All three appear to be hitting on him in one way or another The mother is the most likable of the three but that s not saying much I don t like living here the old woman said Yulong is always weeping and complaining I hate her The people she hated were many Her eldest daughter had divorced and this had rankled for years It was proof that the world was rotting Such things weren t done by my generation That man still comes to visit me at the New Year Festival I don t know why She stared bitterly at the window I hate himAnother recurrent theme in Thubron books is that sooner or later someone asks him why he isn t married This is refreshing for me because in the polite culture in which I live no one asks that uestion but they are thinking it Hence it s good to know that even a great writer like Thubron has a tough time with the uestion This is from Page 242 She began feeling sorry for me She was boiling noodles on a little stove Why aren t you marriedI had not the English let alone the Mandarinto answer thisThe worst thing I can say about Behind the Wall is that it was written in 1987 Given the enormous rate of change in China the book is unavoidably dated if you re reading it now At least I hope it is China doesn t come across as an inviting placeOn the other hand the Cultural Revolution was still a somewhat fresh memory when Thubron was traveling for this book I never realized before reading this how horrible the Cultural Revolution really was It was unimaginably horribleThubron s travel books are unimaginably good Reading them is a delight from cover to cover

Colin Thubron ✓ 8 Free read

Paradise near the Burmese border to the windswept wastes of the Gobi desert and the far end of the Great Wall What Thubron reveals is an astonishing diversit. This is my favorite book about China and I ve read uite a fewThubron is an endlessly sympathetic narrator as he travels through classical China befriending people along the way and extracting their stories His masterly writing style is evident even in his chapter headings Where a lesser writer might have written To the Southwest or Guangxi and Yunnan Thubron writes In the Land of Peacocks which is infinitely vividI read this book years ago and yet many of the stories he tells are still lodged in my brain A man collapsing with exhaustion in a flowerbed after having a gash treated by a local uack a mother and daughter competing for the author s admiration with an impromptu fashion show his visit to Mao s childhood home One of the best stories appears very late in the book about an indomitable statuesue Chinese girl and her American husband Just as he s concluded that her husband didn t stand much of a chance he extends the story a bit and hits us with a surprise endingThis is a book about people in all our sadness joy and glory That it happens to be set in China in the mid 1980 s is almost beside the point


10 thoughts on “Behind the Wall

  1. says:

    Brilliantly lovely engaging travel book about China before it became the roaring supercharged capitalist success story it is today Or has their capitalist dream gone bust too like ours? It's hard to keep up these daysTwo anecdotes from me and a uote from Mr Thubron and we're done Now I don't often mention HF in these reviews on the grounds

  2. says:

    Interesting but dated view of China as seen through the eyes of a British traveller in the 1980's Not only has the country changed enormously s

  3. says:

    I've been reading this book on and off now and then over a long period I finally decided to just finish it It's not that I didn't like the book It is excellent really Thubron is a very observant outsider and he is very knowledgable about China and its recent and ancient history He reports on observed details that I know I would have missed if I had been in his place And his writing is superb It's just that with

  4. says:

    This is my favorite book about China and I've read uite a fewThubron is an endlessly sympathetic narrator as he travels th

  5. says:

    A travelogue around China in mid 80s I think annoyingly it doesn't specify There are some wonderfully poetic passages and plenty of prosaic and disjointed encounters He does at least speak Mandarin so was able to talk to real people relatively easily and seemed good at picking out interesting ones He covered much of the tourist trail albeit independently and even slept in Mao's old bed

  6. says:

    When I first opened this book I was afraid a 30 year old tome would perhaps not be worth the effort and time What could Colin Thubron possibly write about China and the Chinese that was still relevant today? But I

  7. says:

    I was completely and utterly taken in by this book From he first little annecdote that had me laughing aloud on the trainway to school to the end that turned me into a one time philosopher Colin Thubron goes to China after the death of Chairman Mao after the Cultural Revolution and after Deng Xiopeng has introduced new reform throug

  8. says:

    One thing I've noticed in the four Colin Thubron books I've read so far all involving travel somewhere in Asia is that he seems to have a knack for discovering the most unpleasant people in whatever country China in this case he's touringHe

  9. says:

    I've visited China on numerous occasions since the late 90s I've watched the downtown areas of its cities morph into malls full of Chanel and Cartier and its inter city travel become a network of comfortable high speed rain links Colin Thubron travelled the length and breadth of China in the mid 80s He writes about another planet a desperate

  10. says:

    A fascinating and beautifully written account of a journey around China as it recovers from Chairman Mao’s pol

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