Author: Rob Gifford
Title: China Road
Destination: China (Route 312)
Length: 2 months
Connaisseur of (modern) China
[Please note: I have been reading a German translation of this work.]
The story: RG is a journalist with some 20 years of experience in China who decides to travel along the National Road 312 from Shanghai all the way to Khorgas on the border to Kazakhstan.
This book is a compilation of some of his experiences on that trip, as well as stuff from another 2 weeks voyage he had done a year before that.
Rob Gifford’s insights into China’s modernity
If you are interested in the People’s Republic of China that exists TODAY, then read this book. RG really seems to know what’s going on, and his thoughts on modern China, its inherent problems and the road that it may be taking sound more profound than much of the other stuff that I’ve come across in the media lately.
As a travelogue, the book is a bit too journalistic, but it does have some intriguing parts. Among some of the things that I found most memorable was RG’s stealth visit to the Aids Villages in Henan. He also didn’t shy away from talking about his own personal feelings and reactions to China, which I appreciated as a reader.
bad understanding of history?
One thing that that I didn’t like (besides the horrible quality of the translation) was the fact that he seemed to be a bit weak on history.
One example: the title of the first emperor of China is Qin Shi Huangdi. You could translate this into: Qin’s First Emperor. Qin is the name of the state that he ruled over, NOT the name of the emperor – which originally was Ying Zheng. If you consider this, it is just totally absurd that RG repeatedly calls this guy “Qin”, as if that had been his name. It’s kind of the same as calling Napoleon (His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the French) simply “France”.
Then there is an instance in this book where RG suggests that Shanghai was a “small fishing village” in the first half of the 19th century, before it fell into the hands of the British. Wrong again. Shanghai had been fortified (and pretty freakin’ big) well before that, probably even as early as during the Ming Dynasty 1368-1644 – or even before.
Okay, minor flaws like these don’t make this book a bad one, but they shed a weird light on it anyway.
good if you are interested in modern China
All in all, I still recommend reading this. It offers a well balanced perspective on life in modern China, and you will probably look at the political and social circumstances of the Middle Kingdom in a different way after you finished this book. That is, if you can forgive the minor flaws.
[edit: after finding one more flaw (Jiayuguan is not the “mouth” of China, but the “pass”), I decided to subtract another point. So it’s a 6/10 now.]