Just released from prison for peddling fake IDs, 25-year-old Dunhuang finds himself having to start over from scratch in Beijing. His first night in the city he meets a woman who happens to sell pirated DVDs, giving him an “in” for a new way to earn a living. Now he needs to work to get back on his feet in order to save enough money to rescue his friend from prison. Throughout it all, Dunhuang must learn how to navigate through complex human relationships while still focusing on what’s most important.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. I’ll admit that I didn’t expect much from a book by an author I had never heard of published by a relatively small publisher. Most of the Chinese books I’ve read were long and tedious – two things that this book is not. It’s fast-paced and enthralling, with well-developed, likeable characters and a solid plot.
A story about a pirated DVD peddler is just what I needed. Having spent 13 months living in Shanghai, I’ve seen plenty of these guys. I know how much the DVDs cost, what movies I’m likely to see, and what tricks they use to convince you to buy. And I was tickled to find all that in the book. I know these characters, but had never gotten a glimpse into their lives before. Besides that, the book captures the everyday petty corruption and tedious bureaucracy that is such a part of life in China. And it’s nice to hear a Chinese national also complain about landlords that demand three months rent at a time.
TL:DR: Running Through Beijing is definitely worth the short amount of time it will take to read it, and certainly worth the $12.95 list price. It’s a great insight into modern China for those who have never been there, and an amusing, familiar story for those who have.
It’s available today from Two Lines Press!