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River at the Center of the World: A Journey up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time

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Overview

Rising in the Mountains of the Tibetan Border, the River That many regard as the symbolic heart of China pierces 3,900 miles of rugged country before debouching into the oily swells of the East China Sea. Connecting China's heartland cities with the volatile coastal giant Shanghai, the Yangtze has also historically connected China to the outside world through its nearly one thousand miles of navigable waters. To travel the vast extent of the river is to travel back in history, to sense the soul of China, and this...
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The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time

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Overview

Rising in the Mountains of the Tibetan Border, the River That many regard as the symbolic heart of China pierces 3,900 miles of rugged country before debouching into the oily swells of the East China Sea. Connecting China's heartland cities with the volatile coastal giant Shanghai, the Yangtze has also historically connected China to the outside world through its nearly one thousand miles of navigable waters. To travel the vast extent of the river is to travel back in history, to sense the soul of China, and this Simon Winchester does, taking us along with him as he encounters the very essence of China -- its history and politics, its geography, climate, and culture, and above all its people, many of them in remote and almost inaccessible places. This is travel writing at its best: lively, informative, and thoroughly engaging.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"The delicious strangeness of China," as Winchester puts it, is as much the subject of this absorbing account of a personal journey as is the Yangtze River, the third-longest in the world and the entry to China's heartlands. Along its banks, some of the most important events in the country's history have played out, and the river occupies a singular place in the national psyche. In 1994, Winchester followed its course from the East China Sea to Tibet by boat, car, train, plane, bus and foot; but this is more than an ordinary account of a traveler's pilgrimage, although it is a must for any visitor to China. Wryly humorous, gently skeptical, immensely knowledgeable as he wends his way along the 3900 miles of the great river, Winchester provides an irresistible feast of detail about the character of the river itself, the landscape, the cities, villages and people along its banks. Most notably there is Shanghai, once "the most sinful city in the world," now an economic powerhouse rivaling Hong Kong; Wuhan, where the 1910 revolution began that brought Dr. Sun Yat Sen to power and where Mao Ze Dong, at 70, chose to make his famous swim; the Three Gorges, where a great, controversial dam to rival Aswan is being built; and Chongquin, once Chiang Kai-shek's smoggy and furnace-hot capital. Finally, Winchester made his way to the great river's source 15,000 feet high in the mountains of Tibet. A journalist who has written extensively about Asia (Pacific Rising; The Sun Never Sets) and spent nine years in Hong Kong making frequent visits inland, Winchester is comfortable with the country's long, complex history and politics, and he writes about them with an easy grace that defies the usual picture of China as an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. (Nov.)
Library Journal
A geographer by training, Winchester, the Asia-Pacific editor of Cond Nast Traveler magazine, decided that traveling from the end of the 3,965-mile Yangtze River toward the source would allow him to journey deep into the heart of China. The trip also takes him back in time as he moves from ultramodern coastal cities like Shanghai to the still underdeveloped interior. Along the way, he and a valued Chinese companion-guide, Lily, travel through polluted urban industrial cities, flat plains, and some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. Winchester includes lucid discussions of topics related to geographic areas of the river: a fascinating account of tea in Lushan, once a tea-growing center, and an excellent chapter on the controversial decision, universally condemned by environmentalists, to dam the river and flood, among other things, the scenic Three Gorges. His work is a vivid account of the Yangzte as it will cease to be when the dam is completed. An interesting, informative, well-written account; highly recommended for public and academic libraries.Caroline A. Mitchell, Washington, D.C.
From the Publisher
"Winchester is a storyteller . . . romantic enough to make us yearn to be there with him. "-The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312423377
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 3/3/2004
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 222,615
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Winchester

Simon Winchester is the author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, and Krakatoa, among many other titles. He lives in Massachusetts, New York City, and the Western Isles of Scotland.

Biography

One of the leading practitioners of the offbeat, narrative nonfiction genre The New York Times affectionately calls "cocktail-party science," Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford, worked on offshore oil rigs, and traveled extensively before settling into a writing career. For twenty years, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Guardian, augmenting his income by writing articles and well-written but little-read travel books. Then, an obscure footnote in a book he was reading for sheer recreation sparked the idea of a lifetime.

The book in question was Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made, and the footnote read, "Readers will of course be familiar with the story of W.C. Minor, the convicted, deranged, American lunatic murderer, contributor to the OED." Immediately, Winchester knew he had stumbled on a real story, one filled with drama, intrigue, and human interest. Published in 1998, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Oxford English Dictionary was an overnight success, garnering rave reviews on both sides of the pond, and remained on The New York Times hardcover bestseller list for more than a year.

Fueled by curiosity, passion, and a journalist's instinct for what makes "good copy," Winchester has gone on to explore the obscure, arcane, and idiosyncratic in blockbusters like The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, and The Man Who Loved China. Coincidentally, his subjects have placed him squarely in the forefront of the new wave of nonfiction so popular at the start of the 21st century. In an interview with Atlantic Monthly, Winchester explained the phenomenon thusly: ""It shows, I think, that there is deep, deep down -- but underserved for a long time -- an eagerness for real stories, real narratives, about rich and interesting things. We -- writers, editors -- just ignored this, by passed this. Now we are tapping into it again."

Good To Know

Winchester once spent three months looking at whirlpools on assignment for Smithsonian magazine.

He once wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times to correct a factual error in an article about where the millennium would first hit land on the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. (It was the island of Tafahi, not the coral atoll Kirabati.)

He reportedly loves the words "butterfly" and "dawn."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York; Massachusetts; Scotland
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 28, 1944
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      M.A., St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, 1966
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

In Gratitude ix
Author's Note xv
Prelude 1
1 The Plan 7
2 The Mouth, Open Wide 33
3 The City Without a Past 60
4 The First Reach 89
5 City of Victims 113
6 Rising Waters 141
7 Crushed, Torn and Curled 160
8 Swimming 186
9 A New Great Wall 212
10 The Shipmaster's Guide 253
11 The Foothills 270
12 The Garden Country of Joseph Rock 291
13 The River Wild 331
14 Harder Than the Road to Heaven 356
15 Headwaters 387
Afterword: The Yangtze 395
Suggestions for Further Reading 399
Index 405
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 27, 2012

    mainly searching the river's past

    Winchester is almost thunderstruck by the river's majesty. He loves the wild grandeur of Tibet, and fully appreciates the Yangtze's importance in world history. It's just that he finds China's cities of the 1990s ugly, dull, and distasteful. Partly for diversion he's repeatedly drawn to every available relic of British colonial days, till his Chinese assistant Lilly cries "Oh God, your bloody British Empire again!"

    About half the book concerns tales of times past. It's half travel adventure, and half history. Clearly Winchester wrote this for a non-Chinese audience, highlighting what seemed relevant or appealing to foreigners, in the years just before the economic boom.

    --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2000

    A wonderful subject...an even better writer

    I can't say enough about how wonderful this book is. The fabulous information about the geography and hydrology of the river and, indeed China, are amazing. As you travel up the river, it is truly a trip back in time. His adventures with Lily (imagine coming upon someone who can fix a busted radiator in the middle of nowhere), seeing China through their eyes (and Lily's feelings and thoughts on China are ambivalent and complicated) and discovering the people and culture are just some of the high points. You absolutely can't go wrong! I've passed the book around to several other readers who felt the same way. So far, 5 thumbs up!! Also, if you're into China, try Paul Theroux's 'Riding the Iron Rooster.' Another excellent book and writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2014

    Abby

    She drives up to the house. First she detachs the trailer and puts it in back. Then she grabs the bags and unpacks.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2000

    The Forgotten and Misunderstood

    You can read the other reviews if you want to hear about the writer's credentials. What I want to point out to you is how this book illuminates a forgotten and oft-misunderstood aspect of the Chinese people. Their culture is one of the oldest on the Earth. By this fact, we should have lots to learn from them, and we do. Their creativity and resilience astounds even in the face of modern monstrosities and sometimes because of them. What you will find is that the China that Winchester depicts is always in dichotomy. the yin-yang pull of life lives and breathes in every action and inaction. Far too often, the simple and pragmatic Chinese people are written off as mired in nostalgia and tradition. Winchester proves that they choose that path and perhaps might be better for it. This book is truly a remarkable glimpse of an unknown China written from the perspective of one at once in love with and bewildered by its people as Winchester rightfully should be.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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