Red Dust – Ma Jian

1 04 2007

I’ve just finished “Red Dust” by Ma Jain.  It’s an episodic account of his travels through 1980s China – a time when the legacy of Mao’s authoritarianism is being superseded by Deng’s economic reforms; a place where campaigns are waged against “spiritual pollution” whilst people are urged to get rich.  Ma Jain’s journey is partly to escape an oppressive and potentially dangerous Beijing and partly to explore his own sense of rootlessness.

The book describes both the brutality of the time and place as well as the myriad kindnesses of strangers that Ma Jain encounters.  It is a place where complete strangers will give him a place to sleep and food to eat as well as somewhere where men and women are forcibly sterilised and petty corruption is rife.

I enjoyed the book; it is a vivid account of a very personal journey.  I could relate to some of the descriptions from my own travels in China and from my discussions with Katherine and Nick.  It describes a very different China to the one seen now, but one that possibly still lurks not far beneath the surface.  Whilst there is far greater tolerance of difference and artistic expression the corruption has possibly got worse.

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