'My painter friends think I am a die-hard conservative, my writer friends think I am a man of loose morals. In Jushlin Temple I am a quiet disciple, in the Propaganda Department I am a decadent youth. Women call me a cynical artist, the police call me a hooligan. Well, they can think what they like. I only have 20,000 days left to live'. In 1983, Ma Jian turned 30 and was overwhelmed by the desire to escape the confines of his life in Beijing. All around him, China was changing. Deng Xiaoping was introducing economic reform but clamping down on 'Spiritual Pollution'; and young people were rebelling. With his long hair, denim jeans and artistic friends, Ma Jian was under surveillance from his work unit and the police. His ex-wife was seeking custody of their daughter; his girlfriend was sleeping with another man; and he could no longer find the inspiration to write or paint. One day he bought a train ticket to the westernmost border of China and set off in search of himself. Ma Jian's journey would last three years and take him to deserts and overpopulated cities, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquillity and beauty.
The result is an utterly unique book: an insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both an insider and an outsider in his own country could have written.
Ma Jian is a writer, painter and photographer. He left China for Hong Kong soon after finishing his journey, but then moved again to Europe at the hand-over of Hong Kong in 1997. He now lives in London.