Author: Sun Shuyun (孙淑芸)
Title: Ten Thousand Miles Without A Cloud
Destination: China, Central Asia, India
Length: several weeks
Type: mostly overland
A contemplative story
[Please note: This book was originally published in English, but there has also been a Chinese translation (apparently by the author herself) for the Chinese market.]
The story: Driven by the stories of her devout Buddhist grandmother, Chinese emigrant SSY returns to China, in order to retrace the steps of Xuanzang (603-664).
Sun Shuyun retracing Xuanzang’s steps
Who is this Xuanzang? – He is one of the most famous figures in Chinese history. The guy went on a strenuous journey from China to India and back, retrieved Buddhist sutras and translated them into Chinese. Even today he is widely revered in China, though generally not in the form of his historical persona, but as the hero of a novel from the Ming-Dynasty called “Journey to the West”.
SSY visits many of the sites that Xuanzang had presumably been to (Xi’an, Dunhuang, Turpan, Kyrgyzstan, India, and others), and she provides us with an account that is both informative and personal.
I found this book highly enjoyable. SSY writes in a calm, unhurried style. This is not an adventure story, but more or less a contemplative journey that is trying to tackle some of the larger questions in life (religious belief, tradition vs. progress, individual and society, etc.). But if you expect this to be boring, you are wrong. I found it very interesting, and most importantly, it didn’t seem to be pretentious at all. Go and read this.
For anyone interested in Buddhism or China, this might turn out as a real gem. For the others, it’s a still nice low-keyed travelogue with some historical insights and personal stories.
A 7/10 that is leaning towards the 8.