In the winter of 1919 Somerset Maugham, at the age of 45, undertook an arduous journey up the Yangtze River in China. Ever the astute observer of people and places, he wrote down his experiences and collected them into 58 exquisite vignettes which were subsequently published a few years later. No one is spared his searching intelligence, especially the company managers, salesmen, missionaries, bureaucrats, military officials and adventurers he encounters.
"On the whole it made little difference to them in what capital they found themselves, for they did precisely the same things in Constantinople, Berne, Stockholm, and Peking. China bored them all…they only knew so much about it as was necessary to their business." The title is apropos, as the Europeans treat Chinese civilization merely as a background on which their own lives are played out.
"A fascinating volume vivid, thoughtful, full of colour, picturesque, stimulating to the imagination." (The New York Times)
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