Riding the Iron Rooster; By Train Through China, by Paul Theroux (1988).
I am so grateful to Paul Theroux for taking this journey, as I am sure that I never would undertake anything like it. He describes 22 different train trips through a China that few of us might ever see.
He shares his sleeping compartment, as is the custom in this overcrowded land, with a variety of travelers--even some honeymooners. When he offers to leave the compartment so that they can have some privacy, they cheerfully reply that they will have privacy in the upper bunk. Indeed, in a place where every room of every home features at least one bed, privacy is a state of mind.
He describes a country where almost every natural feature has been reworked by the hand of man--mountains that have been carved into steps for growing crops, rivers that have been swallowed up, and valleys that have been dug over, inch by inch--and where wild animals are almost non-existent and seen always as something to be eaten.
I was fascinated and appalled to read about the effects of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which the country was recovering from during Theroux's railroad trip. "It was a mistake," most Chinese told him. [While reading the book, I even dreamed that I was working at a school during a cultural revolution, and found that my library was being used for calisthenics, and that I was expected to deliver books to classrooms on a cart, but the cart was in a closet and needed to be put together before I could use it, and the schedule for visiting the classrooms was secret, and, oh, yes, I looked just like Ugly Betty, which had nothing to do with anything].
This was a nice, long (480 p.), and very satisfying read. I really didn't want to put it down, and I read it while drinking cup after cup of tea, of course!