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Riding the Iron Rooster (1989)

by Paul Theroux

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,586287,756 (3.88)42
Paul Theroux, the author of the train travel classics The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express, takes to the rails once again in this account of his epic journey through China. He hops aboard as part of a tour group in London and sets out for China's border. He then spends a year traversing the country, where he pieces together a fascinating snapshot of a unique moment in history. From the barren deserts of Xinjiang to the ice forests of Manchuria, from the dense metropolises of Shanghai, Beijing, and Canton to the dry hills of Tibet, Theroux offers an unforgettable portrait of a magnificent land and an extraordinary people.… (more)

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» See also 42 mentions

English (24)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Very dated. He likes emptiness. Rushed to get out of cities like Peking. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Oct 31, 2019 |
Theroux spent a massive amount of time in the 1980s travelling around the People's Republic, and the result is this enormously readable, entertaining, and informative book. I was worried that, after a few hundred pages, my appetite for his travelogue would begin to dim, but in fact the opposite happened. He is so insightfully critical that every page seemed to hold something new, and the fact that he was in-country when the Tiananmen Square protests were staged says much about the resoluteness of his character. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Aug 20, 2017 |
This book about Paul Theroux's travels by train through China was written 20 years ago. Although this trip was before the Tiananmen Square massacre, Theroux did see and hear about some student and worker protests. China was definitely going through a process of change at this time. Deng Xiaoping had brought in many reforms and Theroux witnessed that almost everywhere he went. And he went into many corners of that vast land that North Americans rarely see. Two things from this book stand out for me: a) just how excessive the Cultural Revolution was during Mao's time and b) twenty years is just a blink of an eye in Chinese history.

Theroux ended his trip in Tibet. This is one of the last paragraphs in the book:

You have to see Tibet to understand China. And anyone apologetic or sentimental about Chinese reform has to reckon with Tibet as a reminder of how harsh, how tenacious and materialistic, how insensitive the Chinese can be. They actually believe this is progress.

Twenty years later China is still insensitive about Tibet as the world has seen by the reaction to Tibetan protests about the Olympics. I didn't watch any of the Beijing Olympics, primarily because we were on holiday for that time and had no access to TV. But I don't think even if I had been home that I would have watched because I objected to the Olympics going to China with no call for reforms.

I think this is only the second book of Theroux's that I have read. At least, I only recall reading The Mosquito Coast many years ago. I think I prefer Theroux as a nonfiction writer and I intend to read some of his other travel writing. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Aug 7, 2017 |
Joy's Review: Theroux spends WAY too much time on Chinese Trains in the 80's. He is a keen observer and an excellent story teller. I also appreciate that he doesn't hide is opinions. He's also not hesitant to state negative opinions and to share what I think are insightful conclusions. Don't read this for any purpose, but to go along for the ride... and an interesting ride it is. ( )
  konastories | Apr 28, 2016 |
Theroux's eyes do indeed penetrate into nooks and crannies that provide a fascinating insight into China. Fun for railroad trekkies. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
''Riding the Iron Rooster'' is Mr. Theroux's account of a journey that would drive most people insane. Traveling in China (which is different from living in China) for even a week can be exhausting; how he managed to do it for a year is beyond my comprehension. As one has come to expect of him, Mr. Theroux never wastes a word when re-creating his adventures. He is in top form as he describes the barren deserts of Mongolia and Xinjiang, the ice forests of Manchuria and the dry hills of Tibet. He captures their otherworldly, haunting appearances perfectly. He is also right on target when he talks about the ugliness of China's poorly planned, hastily built cities. But his book is mainly about Chinese people, and it appears that Mr. Theroux didn't like them much
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Mark Salzman (Jul 19, 1988)

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Theroux, Paulprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Grote ABC (714)
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'A peasant must stand a long time on a hillside with his mouth open before a roast duck flies in'

- Chinese proverb
'The movements which work revolutions in the world are born out of the dreams and visions in a peasant's heart on a hillside'.

- James Joyce, Ulysses
To Anne
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The bigness of China makes you wonder.
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p 70 De chinezen zijn de laatsten ter wereld die nog kwispedoors maken, en kamerpotten, en trapnaaimachines, en beddepannen, en kroontjespennen (van staal, om in inkt te dopen), en houten hamen voor ossen, en ijzeren ploegen en omafietsen, en stoommachines, en de Packard van 1948 die zij de Rode Vlag noemen. Zij maken nog grootvadersklokken - van het mechanische soort met een kettingoverbrengen, die tik-tak zegt en bong!....de Chinezen hebben de eerste mechanische klok uitgevonden, tegen het eind van de Tang-dynastie. Als veel Chinese uitvindingen is dit in de vergetelheid geraakt, ze wisten niet meer dat ze dat konden en de klok werd vanuit Europa opnieuw ingevoerd. De Chinezen zijn de eersten geweest die gietijzer gemaakt hebben, en hebben korte tijd later de ijzeren ploeg uitgevonden. De Chinese metallurgen hebben de kruisboog uitgevonden in de vierde eeuw voor christus en gebruikten die nog steeds in 1895. Ze hebben als eersten gemerkt dat alle sneeuwvlokken zeskantig zijn. Ze hebben de parasol uitgevonden, de seismograaf, de lichtgevende verf, het spinnewiel, de passer, porselein, de toverlantaarn en de stinkbom.... Ze hebben de kettingpomp uitgevonden in de eerste eeuw na Christus en gebruiken die nog steeds. Ze hebben de eerste vlieger geconstrueerd tweeduizend jaar voordat eer een werd opgelaten in Europa. Ze hebben de losse drukletters uitgevonden en het eerste gedrukte boek gemaakt ...in 868. Ze hebben de eerste hangbrug gebouwd, en de eerst brug met een gesegmenteerde boog (de eerste, in 610 gebouwd, is nog steeds in gebruik). Ze hebben speelkaarten, rees voor hengels en whisky uitgevonden....De Chinezen waren de eerste zeelui ter wereld die een roer gebruikten, de mensen in het Westen stuurden met een roeispaan, totdat ze omstreeks 1100 het roer van de Chinezen overnamen. Het papiergeld, vuurwerk en de lak.....behangselpapier, toiletpapier... ZE hebben de eerste kruiwagens ontworpen, de beste zijn nooit in het Westen nagemaakt.. p 71
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