RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER
By Train Through China
by Paul Theroux
(Ivy Books: $4.95)
Paul Theroux spent the better part of a year (1986-87) traveling through China by train asking people questions about such subjects as the Cultural Revolution that even six years previously would have been considered worse than bad manners. "My children saw the Red Guards humiliate me," a professor says over dinner. Now that travel abroad is permitted, the professor continues, "Can you blame them for choosing to stay in Minnesota?"
Theroux captures the sights and sounds along his ride as well as sentiments that are more forthcoming today: the spittoons placed in restaurants to discourage spitting, the officials who search his luggage specifically for pornography ("considered vastly more dangerous than political propaganda").