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China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  3,575 ratings  ·  443 reviews
Route 312 is the Chinese Route 66. It flows three thousand miles from east to west, passing through the factory towns of the coastal areas, through the rural heart of China, then up into the Gobi Desert, where it merges with the Old Silk Road. The highway witnesses every part of the social and economic revolution that is turning China upside down.

In this utterly surprising
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Random House (first published January 1st 2007)
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4.02  · 
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 ·  3,575 ratings  ·  443 reviews

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Feb 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Several years ago, I listened to Rob Gifford’s series "On the Road in China" on NPR. Three of my siblings (or siblings-in-law) have lived in Asia, and though I’ve never traveled in the area, I was fascinated by his series.

With this in mind, I intended to read Gifford’s China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power when it first came out last year. However, my local library did not immediately add it to its collection, so I forgot about the book.

Until I read The Geography of Bliss.

In Ge
Sep 19, 2007 rated it liked it
Rather than trying to capture all of China, Gifford takes us along on a guided road-trip; a backpack-toting, hostel-sleeping, diesel-driving, 3000 mile journey through modern China. It is, by his account, a nation divided: obsessed with a future improbable enough to be terrifying, and bound by a past whose release could be fatal.

This is not a scholarly work (though there are some elements of that), but a personal account of the lives of real people: a roomful of villagers infected with AIDS by b
Julie Christine
Aug 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Any traveller; anyone interested in East Asia
Recommended to Julie Christine by: NPR
For a reader such as I, who knows so little about China, this was an excellent and accessible overview. As he experiences the tidal wave of hyper-modernity that begins in the eastern cities and rushes into the remote western deserts and mountains, Gifford offers neat bytes of China's immense history. The bibliography is a trove to mine. Upon finishing the book I had a solid grasp of China's possibilities of growth and tumult respective of its past cultural and political development. ANd I yearn ...more
Aug 22, 2011 rated it liked it
After living in China for a while, I've come to dislike almost all western reporting on China. While it's rarely factually wrong, it generally misses the point. I'm looking at you, CNN.

This book is one of the handful of exceptions. Rob Gifford is well respected here as a true China expert, and his book gives a true and vivid picture of modern China, with all its contradictions.

He uses the device of traveling along Route 312, a 3000 mile road that connects Shanghai with the Western Chinese borde
Paul Holbrook
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Rob Gifford convinced me that China an enigma to much of the world for good reason, not just because of our ignorance. Points that stuck with me:

First, China is a collection of ethnic minorities, some of whom have almost nothing to do with the rest of China except by political fiat. Head west in China, as Rob Gifford did, and you find yourself with people who are being swamped by the Han Chinese, the 92% ethnic majority. We have nothing quite like that in the US.

Second, China's relationship betw
Jan 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
It could be that China’s future will not include the adoption of liberal Western values, and instead the future of the West will look like China’s authoritarian one party system. Everywhere in the West democracy is under assault, and its continued existence is by no means guaranteed. We should remember that the ancient Romans willingly turned their republic over to an emperor because they were tired of the chaos of competing factions and increasing lawlessness. Augustus restored order but the Ro ...more
Zhifei Ge
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture, travelogue
  I've been reading quite a lot of books on China, not simply because I love this country, but I've never had a unified opinion about China. My own attitude towards China has always been self-contradictory. This travelogue just echoes my confusion with lively and thought-provoking anecdotes.
  The travel starts from Shanghai and ends in the Gobi Dessert along the Route 312. In the first few chapters, Rob is still near the coastal areas and stories of successful Shanghai have been repeated by
Oct 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone traveling to China
Recommended to Pauline by: borrowed it from Rachel on tour
Just got back from a tour of the Mainland and one of my travelmates lent me this book while we were there. I read it on the train and it was neat to follow our progress on the map and in the stories. Gifford's book gives wonderful background into past and modern day China. As a Chinese American, I also appreciated the explanations of common terms that I've heard my parents' use, like "lao bai xing" - old hundred names.

I liked how Gifford makes the point that we Westerners should not judge China
I found this book to be fascinating. Knowing relatively little about China, this was a very eye-opening book.

The premise is that Gifford, a journalist with many years spent in China, travels Route 312 from the coast of China all the way the Kazakhstan border. The journey is filled with conversations with the Chinese people he meets. Along the way, he educates the reader in Chinese history. Much more emotionally charged than I was expecting, but it is also very funny and entertaining.
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Rob Gifford, a long-time foreign correspondent in China, writes this travelogue of his journey from Shanghai to the far reaches of China's borders with the Turkic peoples in central Asia. Gifford, a Mandarin speaking American, travels on Route 312 first along the Yangtze, then northwards, further through the Gansu corridor and finally in the deserts of China's Xinjiang. The Chinese are optimistic, and they are eager to show off their national rejuvenation to a sympathetic Mandarin-speaking white ...more
Dec 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china, non-fiction, asia
A travelogue from the journey made along Route 312- sort of Chinese Route 66- from Shanghai to Kazakhstan’s border, chronicling the changes the post Mao communist regime and globalization have brought to the country. Gifford made the trip east to west and through the Gobi desert along the former Silk Road the way the locals do- mostly by bus, hailed truck, carpooling with others, or by taxi. On the way, he spoke to ordinary people he met: truck drivers, restaurant owners, fellow bus passengers, ...more
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
British author Rob Gifford, fluent in Mandarin, with 20 years experience in China as a student and journalist, decides to travel Route 312 from Shanghai to Korgaz (China's border with Kazakhstan). Devoting a summer to this 3000-mile trip via buses and taxis, he brings his career experience to ponder the questions of China's future. [return][return]Talking with ordinary people of many ethnic, economic and social identities, and putting today's China into historical context, the result is informat ...more
Absolutely excellent. Outstanding. I took notes especially on chapter 9, "Power". I quote here from the book the sections that struck me as incredibly significant.

"There are many ways in which China was far ahead of Europe, in terms of technological development and prosperity. But for some reason, their system never developed any real checks on state power, and since in the West these checks did emerge, it has become a point of real contention between the two sides. The subject of human rights w
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, china, travel
The author, an NPR reporter and fluent speaker of Mandarin, traveled on Route 312 by car and bus from Shanghai through Henan and Xi'an, then through Uighur country and the Gobi desert to Korgaz, a town on the west border of China and Kazakhstan. Along the way he talks with farmers, factory workers, monks, prostitutes, and truck drivers about the changes Chine's political and financial systems are going through (in 2007). Gifford's observations lead him to two main themes in the book: first, whil ...more
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book immensely. I have travelled to China several times and worked with Chinese for a long time. This book answered some questions that baffled me. I loved the author explanation on mandarin language and its impact to culture.
This book answered my question on how come Chinese people open to change and are not attached to their history and culture like other nations.
Andrea James
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
I have gaping holes in my knowledge about China. Gigantic gaping holes. Come to think of it, those gargantuan holes exist in just about every other subject too.

But I suppose part of me wants to take a slightly greater interest in China. I feel saddened that I can barely speak Mandarin anymore. Almost 25 years of being in the UK and not having any friends who speak Mandarin has eroded whatever I knew before I left Singapore.

I'm also, like probably most people, blown away by the magnitude of the
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Just before packing up and leaving China for good, NPR foreign correspondent Rob Gifford bused and hitchhiked his way along China's 5000 kilometer Route 312. Route 312 spans the country from east to west, from the modern city of Shanghai, through the industrial areas along the coast, alongside the poor rural farmers in China's central region, and right through the Gobi Desert. Along the way, Gifford (who is fluent in Mandarin) talked to the local people and made his own observations about China' ...more
Ray Smith
Mar 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
A rather boring and very annoying book. I was expecting a travelogue like Paul Theroux's excellent Riding the Iron Rooster, but instead, the book's broken down so:

20% -- real-life stories Gifford encounters on his trip, which are almost never interesting.
30% -- recycled historical stories about China, stuff I've heard 1000 times before.
50% -- Gifford's endless and sweeping pronouncements about China, which are never original or interesting. This is stuff I've heard 100,000 times before (Tibet, d
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Jun 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A perfect book for the China generalist. Entertaining, enlightening, wide-ranging, smoothly presented. Just the right helpings of culture, politics, history, quirk, engaging anecdotes, moving stories, enlightening revelations, social commentary, etc. If you want to know a whole lot more about all the facets of modern China -- rather than just focusing on the politics as I often do -- this book is a great way to start. Yes, it will tell you a lot about the political situation, but it will also se ...more
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous book! After living in China for 20 years, former NPR journalist, Rob Gifford, took a summer long trip from Shanghai to China's western boarder on Kazakhstan along route 312 (which he compares to America's Route 66), before leaving China to go back to Europe. Gifford documents his trip in this book, slipping in some of his thoughts and impressions about China and the future of China formed after living there for 20 years and witnessing the incredible pace of change and development. The b ...more
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I know next to nothing about China, and Gifford's book is a nice way to sort of skim through the impossibly broad array of cultural and socio/political issues and shifts which make it up. Unlike most people who write about China, he's actually more interested in the Chinese people he meets than in the Chinese economy, which no one actually knows what to make of (including most Chinese). He also does a lot to illuminate the historical tensions between Chinese peasants and the centralized ruling p ...more
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Incrediballz. Definitely a worth-while read. Super informative about the transition of power in modern China and the struggles the CCP is facing and will face in the near future. Plus, it all becomes quite personalized; you meet the most wonderful characters along Route 312 - from Wu Faliang who is struggling with the western pursuit of survival to Princess Pinky who is chasing the eastern pursuit of happiness; from the Han, the Mongols, the Tibetans, the Uighurs, and every ethnicity in between; ...more
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the book to read before you go to China. I loved it - he blends the personal with the historical (told in an accessible way) and sociological. It's not a hagiography but clearly he loves China - warts and all.

I knew nothing about the blood scandal in Henan where villages are almost wiped out from selling blood in the 90s and there was cross-contamination. This blood was for Western pharmaceutical companies. Of course there was a huge cover-up. Rob Gifford is rightly angry about it.

Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is worth reading. It reads something like a people's history of a moment, and provides plenty of context that propels the reader beyond the book. Whether or not the reader sees it as biased in one way or another will probably depend on the reader's own perspective. Personally, I grew sometimes impatient with the author's rhapsodizing about what constitutes "Chineseness", and the oversimplification of the social and economic situations in modern Japan and South Korea. The book is at its ...more
Sep 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Great Book! I would highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the history, present and possible future of China and how this could affect us in the US. The author, an NPR correspondent in China for six years, took a road trip along the equivalent of US's Route 66 from Shanghai to the border of Kazakhstan, traveling by taxi, bus and hitchhiking. I found the stories of the people he met and his insight on China's history fascinating.
Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Tourists & Business people going to China
Rob Gifford, a longtime journalist in Bejing, follows Rte 312 the 3000 mile long Old Silk Road from Shanghai to Kazihstan. His knowledge of Mandarin facilitates conversations that are at time poingnant, humorous and
Eveline Chao
Nov 11, 2007 rated it liked it
not the best of the china books out there, but there are a few thought-provoking and interesting scenes and ideas. mostly though i felt like just when you had finally come upon an interesting character, the book only dwelled on them for a moment before skipping on to the next part of the journey.
Mar 30, 2016 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
Covers the most recent/contemporary territory of all the books on China I've read so far. I especially appreciated his portraits of the Chinese people he spent time with--a good mix of political/social/economic analyses and personal human stories.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading is absolutely in my top 5 when it comes to hobbies. I really want to get into doing more book reviews here (think I’ve only done one…) Every now and again, my church bring out new recommended books to be read, which is so amazing for me. This one caught my eye (bold cover and all that). I thought I would try a different book for once. Back in school, History was never a strong subject for me. Only certain topics, and only if they were taught in a visual way. If a teacher just stood there ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating account of Rob Gifford's journey through China, from Shanghai to Kazakhstan along Route 312. It was a journey he took by himself, mostly in the summers of 2006 and 2007, before ending his tenure as NPR correspondent in China. I was impressed at his courage in taking such a journey, especially since he did it mostly by bus, or hitching rides with truckers, or by hiring cars for short stretches. As he describes his travels through the various regions, he intermingled the per ...more
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From Wikipedia:
Rob Gifford is a British radio correspondent and journalist. He has degrees in Chinese Studies from Durham University and in Regional Studies (East Asia) from Harvard University. He began to learn Mandarin Chinese in 1987 whilst in China.

Gifford was on staff at the BBC World Service for three years. In the United States, he worked for two years at WGBH in Boston. From 1999 to 2005,
“The sign says BLIND PEOPLE’S ARBORETUM. I stand, still out of breath, dripping sweat and marveling at such a beautiful concept—in China, of all places, where disabled people are still often considered flawed and superfluous. I have never seen anything like this, even in the United States or Europe, and yet here, hidden away on the edge of a noisy, bustling, modernizing Chinese city, someone has taken the effort and expense to plant this beautiful, tree-hugging garden—an island of stop-and-rest in a sea of smash-and-grab.   5.” 5 likes
“Technology is the new religion of urban China, and no longer just in the coastal cities. Having wasted decades, centuries almost, overcoming traditional objections to progress, and then wasted thirty years convulsing to a Maoist revolutionary tune, the Chinese have finally gotten themselves into a position where they can develop technology and begin to take on the world. Everywhere you see signs that say REVIVE THE NATION THROUGH SCIENCE AND EDUCATION.” 0 likes
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