The fascinating story of a young man’s disillusionment with the Communist system and his journey around China in search of himself and his country.
“My painter friends think I am a die-hard conservative, my writer friends think I am a man of loose morals. In Jushlin Temple I am a quiet disciple; in the Propaganda Department I am a decadent youth. Women call me a cynical artist, the police call me a hooligan. Well, they can think what they like. I only have 20,000 days left to live.”
Lots of Chinese women have given us their stories – now Ma Jian tells us of his overwhelming desire, in 1983 at the age of 30, to escape the confines of his life in Beijing. All around him China was changing. Den Xiaoping was introducing economic reform but clamping down on “Spiritual Pollution” – rebellious young people. With his long hair, denim 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; 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 tranquility and beauty.
The result is an utterly unique book; an 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.
This is a beautiful, disturbing read -- a new Wild Swans. It is a wonderful book -- part Matsuo Basho, part Jung Chang, part allegory -- one of those rare travelogues that manages to transcend its subject and evoke the leaf-blown qualities of a peripatetic life. Red Dust is at once a sustained poetic meditation and a portrait of a continent-sized nation in flux. From its pages China's landscape emerges with filmic clarity. Ma Jian's Chinese journey and his writing are an exhilarating combination.