The 50th anniversary of On the Road this week has inspired a flurry of Kerouac- and road-trip-related articles. Apparently Kerouac has quite a few fans in China as well. Eric Abrahamsen writes in the Chinese lit blog Paper Republic that "there are readers who wouldn’t know Hemingway’s beard if it turned up in their soup, but by god they could point out Vesuvio Café on a SF street map."
In an article last week in the WSJ on driving along the Silk Road, Gordon Fairclough writes about China's growing hunger for road trip literature. He mentions Liu Yilin's '"Go the Distance Now," a book chronicling five years spent traveling around China by car." Abrahamsen in Paper Republic adds:
Journey to the West aside, Ma Jian’s Red Dust is probably the closest thing there is to a road-side portrait of China. But it’s an awfully political book, and I wonder how many people actually read it inside the country. Xu Xing’s You Can Have Whatever’s Left, a picaresque about a couple of rogues wandering the country, definitely qualifies. I suppose even Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain counts, although that struck me less as road literature and more as one man’s tiresome journey through his own angst-ridden impotence (ahem).
I have no doubt that growing car ownership and domestic road travel in China will fuel a demand for road trip lit. But in the West, Chinese authors may have trouble finding an audience unless they are blantantly political (as in, critical of the government). Most travel lit we have on China have been written by Westerners, and however wonderful the writers may be, only give an outsider's perspective.
What is it like to journey far from home in a culture so grounded in the concept of home? Or to meet fellow countrymen who share a common written language, but have different dialects, ideals, and levels of prosperity? As the Chinese travel more on the open road, one hopes that some of those voices reach an international audience.