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

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

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by Simon Winchester

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A stunning tour of China, its people, and its history. Chosen as one of the best travel books of 1996 by the New York Times Book Review.  See more details below


A stunning tour of China, its people, and its history. Chosen as one of the best travel books of 1996 by the New York Times Book Review.

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 - 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.

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Product Details

Renouf Publishing Company, Ltd
Publication date:

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

New York; Massachusetts; Scotland
Date of Birth:
September 28, 1944
Place of Birth:
London, England
M.A., St. Catherine¿s College, Oxford, 1966

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The River at the Center of the World : A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She drives up to the house. First she detachs the trailer and puts it in back. Then she grabs the bags and unpacks.