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In 1983, Ma Jian turned 30 and was overwhelmed by the desire to escape the confines of his life in Beijing. Deng Xiaoping was introducing economic reform but clamping down on 'Spiritual Pollution'; young people were rebelling. With his long hair, jeans and artistic friends, Ma Jian was under surveillance from his work unit and the police. His ex-wife was seeking custody of their daughter; his girlfriend was sleeping with another man. 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. His journey would last three years and take him to deserts and overpopulated cities. The result is a compelling and 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.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099283294
ISBN-10: 0099283298
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 21mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 2-May-2002
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » Beijing, 1983. Even as he introduces much-needed economic reform Deng Xiaoping is clamping down on student rebellion and so-called 'spiritual pollution'. Ma Jian, a talented artist and reluctant propagandist for the state, has just turned 30. His ex-wife is seeking custody of their daughter, and his girlfriend is sleeping with another man. He can no longer find the inspiration to write or paint. His employers find his photographs insufficiently proletarian. To make matters worse, his long hair, jeans and bohemian friends have attracted the attention of the police. The poetry-loving Ma Jian is overwhelmed by the desire to flee, to live in a country where, like his heroes Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, 'we can sing out of our windows in despair'. Buying a ticket to China's westernmost border and using a forged letter of introduction to pose (and sometimes work) as a journalist, he begins a journey of self-discovery that will last three years, taking him from the overpopulated cities of the east to the deserts of the west and back again. It is a journey peppered with wild and sometimes disturbing experiences, amusing anecdotes (such as the friend who, on hearing that a group of foreigners plan to walk the Great Wall , determines to beat them to it because otherwise 'it would bring disgrace on China') and endless encounters with Chinese of all ages, all walks of life. Like all great angst-ridden figures of the alienated intelligentsia, Ma Jian reserves a special place in his heart for the opposite sex - there is a sorrowful, yearning quality to his relationships (even those that take place in the bushes, under the glare of policemen's torches). The state is omnipresent, and Ma Jian reads of his executed friends in the paper. But his anger is tempered by the lightness of touch and by a poetic concision quite unlike most Western travel writers. (Kirkus UK)

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Author Biography - Ma Jian

Ma Jian was born in Qingdao, China in 1953. He worked as a watchmender's apprentice and a painter of propaganda boards. Later he was assigned the job of photojournalist for a state-run magazine. Aged 30, he left work and travelled for three years across China - a journey later described in his book Red Dust, winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. He left Beijing for Hong Kong in 1987 but continued to travel to China, notably to support the pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989. After the hand-over of Hong Kong he moved to Germany and then London, where he now lives. Vintage have also published his novels, The Noodle Maker and Beijing Coma, as well as his story collection about Tibet, Stick Out Your Tongue, the book which prompted the Chinese government to ban Ma Jian's work and which set him on the road to exile.

Books By Author Ma Jian

Dark Road by Ma Jian

The Dark Road

Paperback / softback, August 2014
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Beijing Coma

Paperback / softback, June 2009
Stick Out Your Tongue by Ma Jian

Stick Out Your Tongue

Paperback / softback, July 2007
Noodle Maker by Ma Jian

The Noodle Maker

Paperback / softback, April 2006