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The River at the Center of the World

by Simon Winchester

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4651222,298 (3.73)11
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Simon Winchester travels up the Yangtze and uses his trek to write about Chinese history and its various Yangtze-based focal points. A bit uneven (rather like the river, perhaps?), but overall I was intrigued by Winchester's tale. His visit to a Tea Research Institute was very amusing, and his interactions with his interpreter formed a noteworthy subtext to the journey.

A bit glib in places, and there were elements of over-generalization at various points. But Winchester manages to convey at least some of the conundrums of modern China. ( )
  JBD1 | Jan 22, 2014 |
This is the fourth Winchester book I've read (the two OED books and the other China book being the first three). It's also the earliest, and while I enjoyed this book, I liked his later ones a little better. He seems rather fair in his assessments of China and its people, but how would I know?!? ( )
  BooksForDinner | Mar 7, 2013 |
Painful and cliché-ridden. ( )
  peternh | Dec 19, 2011 |
A wonderful book about a great river that packs many motifs into a great travel narrative. Starting in booming Shangai, we witness a newly liberated China which sheds the shackles of both colonialism and communism, only to colonize the poor Tibetans. Another classic motif is the river as a source of life and terror. Throughout history, mankind struggled to control the river, which often led and leads to ecological disasters and human folly. A third motif is the river's function of linking formerly isolated parts to the wider world, often with disastrous consequences to the hitherto unconnected. It is also a tale of (often British) explorers and navigators who devoted their lives in developing the Yangtze, a contribution the Chinese only grudgingly acknowledge (The often boorish and racist behavior of the British colonials certainly did not help their case.).

Finally, it is a personal travel journey of a British Don Quixote and a female Chinese Sancho Panza reluctantly following his mad whims, fighting the windmills of Chinese bureaucracy. A similar journey up the Rhine or the Danube would hold much less drama, as there would be no officials to bribe and little transportation challenges involved. A highly developed tourist infrastructure as well as the ubiquitous Chinese restaurants eliminate further obstacles to a Chinese Winchester. Hopefully, this Chinese Winchester would not follow his example of throwing himself at any Brit he meets. The clinginess of Winchester is really an obnoxious habit in his explorations. If the Westerner happens to be a Scotsman equipped with an alcoholic beverage, it will take almost physical force to send Winchester onwards.

Overall, highly recommended. I only wished he would have stopped at the Red Cliff and discussed the Three Kingdoms. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Feb 12, 2011 |
Hands down the worst piece of travel writing I've read about China. An obnoxious idiotic traveler can only write a bad travel memoir. You can do a lot better than this book. ( )
1 vote simaqian | Jan 5, 2011 |
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Looking at the old river from the opposite banks of a yellow ribbon

Like reading an ancient scroll--- pictographs of man's flailing against the eddies of oft told histories.... LI BAI, TANG DYNASTY, 8TH CENTURY
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This book is dedicated to Lucy and David Tang--- a small token of a great delight
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312423373, Paperback)

British born author Simon Winchester lived in Hong Kong before setting off on a journey up the Chang Jiang or Yangtze River as it is most often referred to in the West. In The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze and Back in Chinese Time, he chronicles his adventures across China along the 3,964-mile River. Employing nearly every mode of transportation--including boat, train, jeep and shoe leather--Winchester recalls his passionate exploration of the countryside, while providing important and engaging historical information. His recollections of the Chinese people are often less complimentary, as he exudes an air of disgust at the country's apparent disregard for pollution, its awkward modern architecture and decaying historical monuments.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:20 -0400)

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