Cover image for South of the clouds : exploring the hidden realms of China
South of the clouds : exploring the hidden realms of China
Faison, Seth.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
278 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HN733.5 .F34 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



South of the Clouds offers a fascinating, intimate portrait of China by telling the story of an American man who ventures into its hidden realms---romance, politics, the criminal underworld, and Tibet. As he matures from a wide-eyed student into a journalist and a seasoned observer, he develops a passion for uncovering secrets, about China and about himself.

The author navigates his way past forbidding walls to peek inside the dark corners of Chinese society, relying on a remarkable collection of friends and acquaintances who help guide the way: an embittered policeman in Xian, a gay professor in Shanghai, and a Buddhist monk in Tibet, who presides at an ancient burial ritual where the corpse is carved up and fed to wild vultures.

The Tiananmen Square massacre, people smuggling, and the Falun Gong movement are among the political and social upheavals that the author explains as he witnesses China's uncertain road toward capitalism and its place in the modern world.

Along the way, the author wrestles with his own cultural identity, his sexuality, and his spiritual bearings. He finds an erotic outlet in the Chinese "Sauna Massage" and a stirring emotional connection with Jin Xing, a brilliant choreographer and China's first openly transsexual citizen. Ultimately, he discovers the answer to lifelong questions on a mountaintop in Tibet.

Seth Faison, with a subtle understanding of Chinese culture, brings past and present events to life in a thought-provoking account of this mysterious nation and its people.

Author Notes

Seth Faison won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 as a member of the New York Times team covering the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He spent twelve years living in China, as a student, a journalist, and finally as Shanghai Bureau Chief for the New York Times . Faison now lives with his family in Santa Monica, California.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Faison spent 12 years in China, 5 (1995 to 2000) as the Shanghai bureau chief for the New York Times. He tells of the carnage of student protestors at Tiananmen Square, the rise of the Falun Gong movement, and the illegal network that smuggles people into the U.S. In offering an intimate look at city residents and those who live in the countryside, he sees there are people stumbling out of tiny wooden homes to empty their chamber pots at a communal toilet, children playing in the dirt, and old men sitting in straw chairs as they fan themselves and read newspapers. Faison describes Shanghai's gleaming new subway, a world-class museum, a grand opera house, discos, mobile phones, and computers, and he writes about the food--dog stew, braised sea slug, snake soup, and sauteed scorpion. With an eight-page color photo insert, the book captures in extraordinary detail the cultural heritage and values of the Chinese people. --George Cohen Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1984, when Faison first went to China to study, the country was just recovering from the Cultural Revolution, and a "big nose" like Faison was quite the oddity. Still, Faison was sociable, chatting up everyone willing to talk. After a brief stint as a cub reporter at the Hong Kong Standard, he was assigned to Beijing in 1988, in time to cover the crisis of Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. Having become a China expert of sorts, Faison came back to New York and, after covering the Golden Venture sinking, returned to China in 1995 as the New York Times's Shanghai bureau chief. While Faison tells the big stories with a journalist's economy just enough background to refresh one's memory, coupled with an eye for telling details it's the smaller, more personal stories that enthrall. When he describes his midnight forays to the sauna massage spas at his hotels, or his love affair with China's leading choreographer, a notorious transsexual, it's hard to stop reading and it's not because he shares any prurient details. Readers will become very fond of Faison his frank doubts about his masculinity, his willingness to wonder about his attraction to Chinese women and, yes, his longing for spiritual depth. An inspiring personal journey, an informative cultural exploration Faison's memoir works on many levels. Photos. Agent, David Black. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Inquiring and adventuresome, first visiting China in 1984 and later as a correspondent for the New York Times in Shanghai, Faison shares his authentic look at this great country so unlike our own. Having witnessed early political unrest, well before Tiananmen Square, Faison notes how, at that time, most of the Communist leadership was baffled and hesitated before taking action against the protesters. Gay China is also explored-Faison presides over a gay wedding and has a passionate affair with a famous transgender dancer. He describes everything with candor, warmth, and compassion, the most striking example of which is his moving spiritual revelation about his visit to Tibet, where he feels he finally attains grounding. Faison is a rarity, a man unafraid to admit that he isn't macho and appreciates the gentler side of human interaction. This sensitivity helps him to fare wonderfully in China, where he befriends many and succeeds in winning their trust and confidence, as well as ours. All large libraries must purchase this outstanding memoir.-Susan G. Baird, Chicago (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.