Rob Gifford’s China RoadIt is a bit strange to find Rob Gifford’s China Road in the travel section of my local bookshop. Route 312, where the author traveled from end to end, is not exact your typical tourist route. Nor is it associated with some significant historical events, for example, the Long March – which has become popular lately. However, Route 312 does connect Shanghai, the most cosmopolitan city of China, to Urumqi, the provincial capital of the most remote part of Northwest China, two very different social and natural landscapes indeed.

Rob Gifford is not a normal tourist or explorer either. He’s been living in China for many years as a journalist working for BBC and American public service radio network NPR. This trip, which he did just before leaving China for a new job in London, not only reveals a society of huge diversity which is undergoing rapid social and economic changes, but also summaries the author’s understanding of Chinese people, culture and history. The contrasts in terms of cultural and economic development neatly reflect on the way Gifford travels, by train, car, taxi, imported 4×4 and overloaded truck. In one instance, the car he traveled on was caught by police for speeding, resulted in a strange encounter with the law enforcement and hot discussion of English Premier League.

You would be disappointed if you are looking for tourist attraction in the book. What the author attempts to do, however, is to inject his insight of Chinese society into the travel story, which really distinguishes this book from other similar travel logs. The subtitle gives it away: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power. It’s combination of travel writing and commentary of culture and history. The down side of this approach is that the author could not write about one issue for too long, because the journey has to move on. Unlike another recently published book about present time China, Duncan Hewitt’s Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China, the social observation in China Road does look scattered sometimes.

This is a funny and insightful book. An enjoyable read.

Rob Gifford’s China Road