In 1983, Ma Jian turned 30 and was overwhelmed by the desire to escape the confines of his life in Beijing. All aroun him, china was changing. Deng Xiaoping was introducing economic reform but clamping down on "spiritual pollution"; 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 of 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 tranquility and beauty. The result is 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.