Part memoir, part travelogue, this volume shows Ma Jian’s skills as novelist, poet and painter. It brings the people and places alive on the page, while his personal story offers an insight into Chinese society since the death of Mao.
In 1983, Ma Jian turned 30 and was overwhelmed by the desire to escape the confines of his life in Beijing. With his long hair, jeans and artistic friends, Ma Jian was under surveillance from his work unit and the police, as Deng Xiaoping clamped down on ‘Spiritual Pollution’. His ex-wife was seeking custody of their daughter; his girlfriend was sleeping with another man; and he could no longer find the inspiration to write or paint. One day he bought a train ticket to the westernmost border of China and set off in search of himself.
Ma Jian’s journey would last three years and take him to deserts and overpopulated cities, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquillity and beauty. The result is an utterly unique insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both an insider and an outsider in his own country could have written.