Ma Jian

Is this just a Chinese stream of consciousness or is it more?

We’re in the early 1980s in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. MJ is a 30-year-old aspiring artist who works as a photographer for the propaganda department. His life is becoming difficult: he has a wife, but they have separated, and she took the child; he has a girlfriend, but…


Richard Halliburton

This author has been called the “grandfather of travel writing” – but is he really that good?

At first I really liked this book. RH reminded me of Patrick Leigh Fermor, who set out as a young man to see the world and find adventure. And RH seemed even more extreme in the way was willing to embrace hardship, sometimes apparently looking for disaster. I appreciated that, and I still do…


Nadine Hudson

Why does too much often mean too little?

NH is a woman in her twenties from Switzerland who is struggling with mental health issues, most notably an eating disorder. She decides to embark on a backpacking trip through Asia. She travels on her own for a while, then she runs into a British traveler, marries him, and they continue to go on…

Alec Ash "Wish Lanterns"

Alec Ash

What went wrong when a book can’t exist by itself?

This is not a travel book. It’s a book about China, a book that seemingly aspires to explain a part of China to its readers (think of Peter Hessler, John Pomfret, Evan Osnos, Liao Yiwu, or maybe Rob Gifford. The author of this book, AA, is a young Briton who lives in Beijing as a journalist/writer. He makes friends with…

Ding Haixiao - "Ten Years Of Hitchhiking"

Ding Haixiao

What happens to a travel story when you get caught up in old books and theories?

Ding Haixiao is a twenty-something Chinese travel writer who embarks on a trip to the Chinese Northwest. He hitches rides most of the way, sometimes alone and sometimes together with different travel companions whom he either already knows or gets to know on the road. He seems to have a strong liking for anthropology and philosophy, and he is…

Stephen Spender's "China Diary"

Stephen Spender

Is this a coffeetable book or a regular travelogue, and is it worth a read?

At the beginning of the 1980s, during the early years of China’s opening and reform policy, aging English writer Stephen Spender decides to visit the Middle Kingdom. He takes two friends along, one of whom is a painter (co-author David Hockney). They start their tour from Hongkong, and they get to see Beijing, Xi’an, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Shanghai, Guilin and…

Evan Osnos' "Age Of Ambition"

Evan Osnos

Is there a better book to get to know modern China?

Evan Osnos is an American journalist who, after studying China and the Chinese language in the mid-90s, arrives in Beijing in 2005. He is well educated, and he takes his job seriously. He moves into a Hutong, and over the years gets to know a lot of Chinese people from all walks of life. Some are rich, some are poor, some are…

Rob Lilwall's "Walking Home From Mongolia"

Rob Lilwall

What’s wrong with adventure travel writing if we get bored by it?

Rob Lilwall is a British adventurer who has managed to cycle home from Siberia to the UK. This time, he decides to take a buddy along (Irish adventurer Leon McCarron) and walk from Mongolia to Hongkong, which is his new home. The two manage to…

Mitch Moxley's "Apologies To My Censor"

Mitch Moxley

Does the expat experience really keep people from ever growing old?

Mitch Moxley is a young Canadian who decides to go to China. He seems to make this decision rather spontaneously. Upon arriving in Beijing, he takes on a job at an English-language newspaper, finds an apartment, roams the bar scene, takes on a few…

Erwin Wickert's "China Seen From Within"

Erwin Wickert

What’s wrong with the diplomatic approach to writing about a foreign culture?

In the mid-70s, German diplomat Erwin Wickert gets transferred from Romania to China. He has been there before (as a tourist in the 1930s), and he seems excited about it. He stays in Beijing for 4 years, lives through…

Hans Ulrich Kempski's "Red Sun Over Yellow Earth"

Hans Ulrich Kempski

Are these just some minor slip-ups or are we looking at an expert exposing himself?

We’re in the mid-1950s, and the world has just entered the Cold War. Hans Ulrich Kempski is one of the best known journalists in West Germany. He visits Japan and China, both of which are on the…

Heinrich Schliemann's "China And Japan In The Present Age"

Heinrich Schliemann

Is this guy more than just a worthy rival to Albert von Le Coq?

We’re in the mid-19th century. Heinrich Schliemann is a German businessman with a gift for languages and a passion for history who will later go on to discover the ruins of Troy. But first, he decides to go on a journey to China and Japan, both of which are currently…

Xiao Peng's "Ten Years Of Backpacking"

Xiao Peng

If this guy writes so well and goes to so many cool places, then just why is this book he wrote so bad?

Xiao Peng is a young Chinese white-collar worker who decides that he wants to see the world. He first travels around China, then ends up as an exchange student in the Netherlands. From there, he sets out to…

Stuart Stevens' "Night Train to Turkistan"

Stuart Stevens

Does this book do anything right except exposing Mark Salzman’s attitude towards China?

Aspiring American travel writer Stuart Stevens is a huge fan of Peter Fleming. He sets out to retrace Fleming’s and Ella Maillart’s route from Beijing to the Northwest of China. And he doesn’t…

Lois Fisher-Ruge's "Go Gently Through Peking"

Lois Fisher-Ruge

Why should young people from China read this today, more than one generation later?

In 1973, the People’s Republic of China is slowly starting to open up to “imperialists” from the West. US-President Nixon and his aide Henry Kissinger have been warmly received, and now a select…