On the Chinese Road

The 1980s were an idealistic time for China, as it woke from the nightmare and isolation of the Cultural Revolution. The intellectual Elite, filled with new hopes and wild ideas of how the country's energies should be directed, were at the forefront of the era's wide-eyed activism—from the formation of China's first art associations, like the No Name Group, to the Tiananmen student protests of 1989.

Red Dust (Pantheon Books; 304 pages), written by iconoclastic writer, poet and painter Ma Jian, is set in this fascinating, fast-changing period. Honest,...

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