The Search for a Vanishing Beijing

A Guide to China’s Capital Through the Ages


M. A. Aldrich

ISBN : 978-962-209-939-5


January 2006

422 pages, 6″ x 9″, 88 b&w illus.

  • HK$195.00

Also available in Hardback HK$295.00

The Search for a Vanishing Beijing weaves the genres of travel essays and travel guides into a comprehensive narrative about the cultural mosaic of the capital of China. The author leads the reader through palaces, temples, back streets and markets while bringing back to living memory forgotten or overlooked Peking customs, stories and beliefs.

The text touches on everything under the sun as the reader walks from Tian An Men Square through the surrounding neighborhoods and further to sights in rustic settings. The narrative relates stories about imperial customs, street food, temple festivals, historic trees, Red Guard struggle sessions, Tibetan and Mongolian customs, hiking trails, political clashes, residences of famous Chinese and foreigners, ghosts, prisons, classical Chinese poetry, ice-skating, espionage, burial customs, old and new embassy districts, courtesans, restaurants and (even) Chinese liquor. Interspersed throughout the book are stories told by such diverse sources as Marco Polo and Bernard Shaw as well as 20th century Sinophiles like Juliet Bredon, George Kates and David Kidd. Commentary from Ming and Qing era travel guides are brought out for a Chinese perspective on celebrated locations in the city.

M. A. Aldrich’s interest in Chinese culture began more than 30 years ago. He is a graduate of the Foreign Service School of Georgetown University where he studied under Jesuit teachers who lived in China before the revolution of 1949. He later took a master’s degree in History at SUNY at Stony Brook. After studying law at Columbia University, he has been an international commercial attorney in Greater China for 15 years. He works in the Beijing office of a London-based international law firm.

“Like an old friend who knows Beijing inside and out, Aldrich takes the reader by the arm as they discover the city together. By weaving history, legend and humor, the author portrays, with a sure hand, the rich tapestry of Peking. In doing so, the history of China also unfolds.” —Valery Garrett, Asian Review of Books, Hong Kong

“The stories are what make the book a compelling read, regardless of whether or not you actually make it to the sites he is describing. Some are fact, some are myth, and many span the grey divide between the two.” —Rebecca Kanthor, Far Eastern Economic Review

“Buy this book and use it as you revisit the major sights again and again. In between times, take in some of the less familiar sights, the bizarre and beautiful corners that still remain in this city of a thousand pneumatic drills. You could not have a better guide than long-time Beijing resident M. A. Aldrich.” —Jane Ram, Asian Business Traveller

“To me (a Chinese), it is Aldrich’s open-mindedness—his awareness and acceptance that his values are not universal—that makes his book a delight to read. I take pleasure not only looking at the Old Beijing he so vividly protrays, but, also, in looking at him looking at Old Beijing. To me, his book is not so much a travel guide as a mirror: it reflects ways of seeing my culture in a new light, and sets an example of how to communicate across culture . . . Aldrich’s affection for the land that is China bursts forth so powerfully that he happily occupies the intriguing paradox of being a foreign devil while not really being one.” —Michelle Ng, Zing Magazine, Shanghai

“Beijing is like the most interesting girlfriend you never had—rich, beautiful, and highly cultured but very, very difficult to understand and requiring a lot of time and thought. Michael Aldrich has produced by far the best crack at intepreting the city to date.” —Paul French, Access Asia, Shanghai

“Mr. Aldrich’s wonderful book is rich in information” —George Fetherling, Shared Vision, Vancouver