> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 1 July 2002
  • ISBN: 9780099283294
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $24.99

Red Dust

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.

  • Pub date: 1 July 2002
  • ISBN: 9780099283294
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $24.99

About the Author

Ma Jian

MA JIAN was born in Qingdao, China, in 1953. He is the author of Stick Out Your Tongue, his debut novel which in 1987 led to the permanent banning of his books in China; Red Dust, winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; four collections of short stories and essays; and six further novels, including Beijing Coma, winner of the Index on Censorship Book Award and the Athens Prize for Literature. His last book, The Dark Road, nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, saw him barred from returning to China. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He now lives in exile in London.

Also by Ma Jian

See all

Praise for Red Dust

“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

Related titles