China: A Vicarious Trip

Not long after he was posted to Pe king as French cultural counselor in 1964, Marcel Girard met Premier Chou En-lai and told him of an ambitious plan. He would like, said Girard, to put together the first guidebook to China since the Communists took power in 1949—and indeed, since the Japanese railways tried to produce one in 1924. Chou looked at the Frenchman in disbelief, saying only: "I wish you lots of luck."

Girard needed not only luck to gather any meaningful information about the vast, xenophobic country, but a lot of patient plodding and unusual methods as well....

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