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The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of…

The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China (2014)

by David Eimer

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513324,729 (3.82)12



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An outstanding book about the parts of China the Chinese government doesn't promote and few westerners will ever visit. Traveling in the borderlands of China you can see that not only is China enormous economic, but not all of the people are benefiting from the exploding economy, nor are they happy communists. For me the second half of the book was the best with travels along the south along Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. As well as the northern frontier especially along N Korea.
This is a fascinating book and extremely informative. ( )
  zmagic69 | Mar 14, 2015 |
If one were looking for a single book on China's ethnic minorities, it is hard to imagine that this would be the one to pick. Author David Eimer clearly has guts and is an enterprising traveler, working his way around the most remote corners of modern China - Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan, and Dongbei. But while he gets to some remarkable places, at some risk to himself, Eimer doesn't achieve many real insights into the minority cultures, and he consistently seems to have trouble getting folks to open up. There's plenty of historical context, but it's all pretty generic. He's also not particularly reflective - it was illuminating to compare his journey to (and around) Mount Kailash with Colin Thubron's book, To a Mountain in Tibet, which is much deeper, and better conveys what the mountain means to the pilgrims around it. The most interesting trip Eimer takes is to the heart of the Golden Triangle, where he ends up in a hair-raising methamphetamine session with his drug-lord hosts.

One final thought: all travel authors are, to varying degrees, unreliable narrators; but Eimer makes some choices in telling his story that seem downright odd. For example, at the end of a chapter on Xinjiang, he makes a point to mention his short fling with a Chinese women working as a location scout for a Chinese television program. It's not offensive, but it is so inconsistent with the arc of his story that one can't help but wonder what Eimer is really doing with this book, and why. That said, there's a lot of raw information in this book about places on the edges of China, and it probably contributes useful context if read along with other accounts. ( )
  bezoar44 | Jan 11, 2015 |
Eisner has spent a good fifteen or more years living and working as a journalist. He travels to the margins of China, where the Chinese struggle to impose hegemony over the myriad minorities that inhabit those regions. The difficulty in doing so is expressed in the book's title. I found the observations of western and southern China particularly absorbing, and between Google Earth and YouTube, I was able to visually follow his journeys. He does include some historical backdrop; however, I could have used more. His section on northern China is quite abbreviated and seems an aside. His writing is not as reflective, and perhaps understandably more journalistic than Colin Thubron's writings on the same subject. Still the book is an engaging and informative adjunct. If this is an area of the world you do not know much about, this book provides a good introduction. ( )
  nemoman | Sep 4, 2014 |
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Shan gao huangdi yuan:
The mountains are high and the emperor far away

Traditional Chinese proverb
For my mother and father
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For almost 400 years, the fort at Jiayuguan marked the end of the known world for the Chinese.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Far from the glittering cities of Beijing and Shaghai, China's borderlands are populated by around one hundred million people who are not Han Chinese. For many of these restive minorities, the old Chinese adage 'the mountains are high and the Emperor far away', meaning Beijing's grip on power is tenuous and its influence unwelcome, continues to resonate. Travelling through China's most distant and unknown reaches, David Eimer explores the increasingly tense relationship between the Han Chinese and the ethnic minorities. Deconstructing the myths represented by Beijing, Eimer reveals a shocking and fascinating picture of a China that is more of an empire than a country.… (more)

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