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Celebrated Chinese writer Ma Jian sets off on an extraordinary journey around China in search of himself and his country. Winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Award

In 1983, Ma Jian turned 30 and was overwhelmed by the desire to escape the confines of his life in Beijing. With his long hair, jeans and artistic friends, Ma Jian was under surveillance from his work unit and the police, as Deng Xiaoping clamped down on 'Spiritual Pollution'. His ex-wife was seeking custody of their daughter; his girlfriend was sleeping with another man; and he could no longer find the inspiration to write or paint. One day he bought a train ticket to the westernmost border of China and set off in search of himself.

Ma Jian's journey would last three years and take him to deserts and overpopulated cities, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquillity and beauty. The result is an utterly unique insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both an insider and an outsider in his own country could have written.


Enthralling... He depicts a land of extraordinary physical beauty and interest and his prose is always elegant. Read this book for its human truthfulness and for unforgettable moments

Daily Telegraph

Red Dust is a tour de force, a powerfully picaresque cross between the sort of travel book any Western author would give his eye-teeth to write, and a disturbing confession


It opens windows on landscapes small and vast, all still largely unobserved and unknown to Westerners


Honest, raw, insightful... The Chinese equivalent of On the Road


[Ma's] powers of description make every page buzz with life... Someone who could rank among the great travel writers

New York Times Book Review

His narrative is blessed with a prose style that compresses meaning as succinctly as Chinese calligraphy

The Times

Like a Chinese Jack Kerouac...his book is a riveting record of how he tried to make sense of his new experiences

Sunday Times

An unflinching account of a three-year journey by an insider who feels like an outsider in his native China

Chris Moss, Sunday Telegraph

A Sino-beatnik travelogue, [and] a fascinating search for self

Mother Jones

Ma captures the feel of wandering off China's beaten track, which is to say most of the country, far from the tour buses and souvenir stands

Los Angeles Times

A rare peep at everyday life behind the Chinese iron curtain

Noo Saro- Wiwa, Geographical

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    July 1, 2002


    336 pages

    RRP $24.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    July 1, 2010

    Vintage Digital

    336 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle AU
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