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Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  365 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Having learned Mandarin, and travelling alone by foot, bicycle and train, Colin Thubron sets off on a 10,000 mile journey from Beijing to Tibet, starting from a tropical 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 diversity, a land whose still unmeasured resources stra ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 1st 2004 by Vintage (first published 1987)
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Paul Bryant
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 days!)

Two anecdotes from me and a quote from Mr Thubron and we're done.

Now I don't often mention HF in these reviews, on the grounds that she might object, which is fair enough. But she goes to China on university business regularly (they have a campus in Ning-Bo). And once she told
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 touring.
He is in Nanjing, I think, on Page 101, when he makes an ill-fated call on the family of an acquaintance 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 real
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 without a continuing story, it was easy to put this one down when something mor ...more
A travelogue around China, in mid 80s, I think (annoyingly, it doesn't specify). There are some wonderfully poetic passages, and plenty of more 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.
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This book, as well as being an interesting travelogue, provides a valuable historical perspective on China after emerging from its 20th century nightmare, the Cultural Revolution, not to mention The Great Leap Forward that preceded it - which caused 35 million to starve to death.

Colin Thubron prepared well for this trip, immersing himself in Mardarin for some time before setting out. His descriptive powers are up to the task of conveying the full panorama of Chinese life which he encountered, fr
Terri Adamson
Another great book from Colin Thubron.
Although a little dated it still gives a good insight into how people from China viewed 'outsiders' not so long ago. Many had never seen a European before and their opinions were very varied.
Colin Thubron tells it as it is.
He tells of areas and regions with honesty, which is probably why I enjoy reading his travel books so much.
Sometimes I wish he would go back and update the stories of people he met on his travels. He leaves you wondering what became of m
Authors have been writing books about their trips to China since Marco Polo and I have read a bunch of them. I should read Marco Polo's book because it seems he is the last caucasian who really had a good time there. In modern days, people go to China for an educational experience, not a vacation and all of these books about China are very serious. The Cultural Revolution left such a horrific imprint on the people and the landscape that invariably that aspect of Chinese history colors the author ...more
The book reinforces what I have long felt i.e. a country populated by people both alien and enigmatic - and one I have no desire to visit. That said, I have great respect for Thubron, a truly intrepid traveller who mixes in with the very fabric of society. His descriptions of the land are superlative and he writes of meetings with individual Chinese that range from horrific to heart-wrenching - there are glimpses of shared values! There is certainly a wealth of information about Chinese culture ...more
Dina P.
very engaging. I did read every single words in this book. a kind of book that make me sad when I finished reading because I still want to read more.
Les Dangerfield
This is about his travels around China in about 1986 so sees a very different country to modern day China, I'm sure. Overall it gave me a better feel for China than I had before - including geography - but it is patchy in terms of interest. 3 stars is a bit mean - I'd prefer to work on a ten point scale in whcih case I would have given 7
A fine read with lots of wonderful little stories, but don't expect to learn much about the China of today. Also I have the impression that Thubron's books on Siberia and Central Asia cut much deeper than his Chinese travelogue.
Not as interesting as the other two books of his I have read so far anyway. It was better toward the end. The photo is not the edition I read so maybe other editions have more maps and possibly pictures.
The book I wish I'd written; an insightful journal of one man's travels around the people's republic. It brought it all back, only with a greater level of tolerance and understanding than I was left with!
A fascinating read, set just as China opened up to the world in the brief period between the end of the cultural revolution and the beginning of the economic boom we're still witnessing today.
Qingchuan(Vivian) Lyu
It would be a good choice to read this book after lunch lying on a meadow. As a journey with no deep thoughts, the author was good enough to demonstrate China in a peaceful tone.
Laura Grant
Great introduction to cities in China from a traveler's perspective. Funny stories about sympathetic acts for animals that might have been dinner! Lost before finnishing.
Not cheerful book. But then, China in the '80s was not a cheerful book. If you must, Mr Thubron's travelogue is as good as any - sensitive, intelligent and well-written.
Alan Hunt
Just interesting in the way he meets people and talks to them and has a look round China. It's no great literature but good if you like travel books.
Marianne Broadgate
A wonderful, engaging and in places funny book. Colin Thubron is one of my favourite writers and this is a good example of his work.
Sep 08, 2012 Kate marked it as to-read
Shelves: haven-t-finished
Post-communism China. Interesting insights, but nothing very engaging yet.
Will take to work for students to read - have dipped in and out of this
So bloody good.
Zorphie Zorro
Zorphie Zorro marked it as to-read
Aug 01, 2015
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Colin Thubron, CBE FRSL is a Man Booker nominated British travel writer and novelist.

In 2008, The Times ranked him 45th on their list of the 50 greatest postwar British writers. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Thubron was appointed a CBE in the 2007
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