In 1983 Ma Jian turned thirty. All around him, China was changing. Deng Xiaoping was liberating the economy but clamping down on personal freedom; young people were rebelling. After five years as a photographer for a state propaganda department, Ma Jian decided the time had come to change his life. His ex-wife had taken his daughter from him, his girlfriend had denounced him to the police and, as a key figure of Beijing's underground artistic community, he faced accusations of "Spiritual Pollution". Dodging police surveillance, he bought a one-way ticket to the most remote province of China and set off on a journey of exploration.
From Beijing to the wise plains of China's far west, from sacred mountains to primeval forests, from ruined oasis towns to the teeming cities of the southern coast, Ma Jian spent three years on the road in search of himself and his country. Sometimes he posed as a journalist, at other times he became fortune teller, hairdresser, toothpaste peddler and sofa maker. But when at last he reached Tibet, he found the only path left for him led home.
Part memoir, part travelogue, this is an exceptional piece of writing. Ma Jian's skills as novelist, poet and painter bring the people and places alive on the page, while his personal story offers a unique insight - by a man who was both insider and outsider in his own country - into Chinese society since the death of Mao, and gives a real, unforgettable sense of what it is like to live in China now.