44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass


  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1484939999
  • ISBN-13: 978-1484939994
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.9 x 10 inches


A Yank’s Appreciative Journey of Discovery
and Self-discovery in the Middle Kingdom


The book has been very well received by critics around the world. Below a small sampler:

Praise for 44 Days:

What if Alexis de Tocqueville were fluent in Mandarin and traveling through China by backpack and bullet train? He would record every encounter and analyze China’s national character with remarkable lucidity. He would produce a book full of telling insights that functioned like a five-dimensional chess game. It would be a guide book, travel companion, memoir, political history, and plain-old-pleasure for someone who likes their prose with pith in it. Oklahoma’s latter-day Tocqueville, Jeff J. Brown, is one hell of a good story teller, and traveling with him deep into China is an adventure not to be missed. Thomas Bass, Author of The Spy Who Loved Us, Vietnamerica, Camping with the Prince, Reinventing the Future, and The Eudaemonic Pie.

44 Days” is a delightful romp through a changing China and Jeff Brown is an excellent guide.John Pomfret, author of Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China


In 44 Days, Jeff Brown takes a wry look at travel and life in general in five of China’s more picturesque provinces. It’s an entertaining tale told by someone with a good eye for the absurd, a sense of history and the ability to appreciate a journey’s simple pleasures – such as a minibus ride with just one person in each seat. Along the way, he punctures more than a few myths about some of China’s overhyped travel destinations and shares some memorable moments, like his elaborate effort to find solitude and avoid the madding crowds in Sichuan’s Jiuzhaigou Park. For good measure, his snapshots add to the fun as well as the reader’s edification, including his photographic evidence of market demand for air-dried yak testicles. (Probably an acquired taste).

William Kazer, Wall Street Journal

Jeff Brown’s idea of keeping his Mandarin fluent is hopping on buses and trains full of Chinese minorities, befriending dozens of strangers, climbing the trails of China’s breathtaking nature reserves while hoisting a 6 kg backpack, bunking in hardscrabble Chinese hostels and savoring local cuisines – all the while discovering himself and pondering fresh perspectives on the human condition. 44 Days is a terrific read for thinkers, travelers and otherwise.

Deena Stryker, author of Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel and A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness.

A Brilliant Journey Through China and Nearly Everything Else

Reading 44 Days is like taking a trip through China with a very funny and articulate friend. Jeff Brown writes with a unique style that seamlessly weaves his many interests into the narrative as he travels a diverse range of landscapes throughout China. True, this book is primarily a journal-style intimate record of a traveler who seeks to experience China in as many iterations as possible, discovering local foods, customs, transportation, and natural sights. Yet 44 Days is also a running dialogue of a man who is clearly well educated in naturalism (geology, ecology, flora and fauna) but also the arts, linguistics, religion, politics, and cultural contexts from around the world. But most especially, Americana.

Jeff Brown brings American culture, perspective and politics into his narrative in such a way as to endear the reader and continuously draw insightful and often hilarious parallels between modern China and Americana. It’s like going on a trip with your wildly eccentric, hopelessly brilliant Uncle, who never misses a chance to reference The Doors or Andy Warhol or Annie Oakley in the most ridiculous of Chinese circumstances, while citing 14 studies on politics and environmental issues to drive the point home. This is entertainment. Makes one wonder what this guy does for a living. Researcher? Resident poet? Art historian? Religious scholar? Ah, wrong on all counts. Teacher, ha!

All in all, 44 Days is worth its weight in gold based sheerly on comedic value. However, the book has a far more reaching purpose. Yes, it’s a valuable resource for anyone who wants to travel China with information that continually one-ups Lonely Planet. Yes, it’s an excellent way for a novice to learn a great deal about China in the 21st century. But most importantly, the crowning glory of this book is the author’s ability to weave it all together and present the reader with a cohesive understanding of why this nation is so important to pay attention to now, in terms of politics, economics and globalization. Anyone who is not deeply impacted by this message in 44 Days clearly was not paying attention. It’s pretty hard to miss. This book should be in American high school political science classes.

Prairie Boulmier-Darden

More Reviews:

A fascinating exploration of the people and land of China

I started reading 44 Days Backpacking in China hoping for an interesting travelogue. I discovered far, far more than I’d expected. Yes, it is a description of one person’s travels through China. But it is an even more a fascinating exploration of the people of China, and the land in which they live.

News reports on the Chinese government reveal as much about the people of China as do news reports on the US Congress about the people of the United States. That is: zero. Although Brown is very knowledgeable of China’s government and the country’s millennia-old history, his primary focus is on discovering, and revealing to the reader, the multi-ethnic people of China; those Chinese outside its megacities, who live in the mountains, deserts, valleys and plains of a China that even most urban Chinese never see, let alone foreign tourists.

Jeff Brown is a dual French/American citizen who speaks, among other languages, fluent Mandarin. He is a teacher in Beijing living with his wife and daughter. Brown straps on a backpack, pockets his trusty smartphone, and heads into the interior of the world’s third largest (and most populated) country. Traveling by train, bus, car, boat and foot, he visits large cities and nearly depopulated villages. He stays where the Chinese stay, in small hotels, hostels and homes, eating street food or in small family-owned restaurants. Throughout his journey, he sees almost no foreigners, but does encounter many Chinese surprised to see a Westerner in their town.

“44 Days” is a fascinating exploration of the people of China, and the land in which they live. Brown is very knowledgeable of China’s government and the country’s millennia-old history. He obviously enjoys not just his travels but the people he meets. While he journeys, we journey with him. Jeff Brown is an intelligent, articulate and entertaining writer and 44 Days is absolutely enthralling. I highly recommend it. Mick Winter, author of Cuba for the Misinformed: Facts from the Forbidden Island

Brown obviously enjoys not just his travels but the people he meets. He finds the Chinese overwhelming friendly, courteous and helpful. He is invited into their homes to share meals, even to the point of sharing a cup of boiled water with an old Tibetan woman in her home in a nearly-abandoned village. Her mud home, by the way, gave him the opportunity to charge his smartphone, which apparently worked almost everywhere.

While Brown journeys, we journey. As the reader, I could feel the heat of the desert, the toxic air of large, congested cities and the crisp brilliance of a sunny day high on a glacier. Some things, however, fall into the category of “you had to be there.” See if you’re able to visualize this: Imagine the gigantic amusement park of Shapotou, set on the edge of the Gobi Desert. In addition to enjoying the usual Disney-type rides, you can ascend sand dunes by escalator, slide back down the dunes on lens-shaped bowls, raft on or ride a zip line across the Yellow River, drive a dune buggy and ride a camel. Try finding that at Disney World.

Jeff Brown is an intelligent, perceptive and entertaining writer, and 44 Days Backpacking in China is a fascinating exploration deep into the heart of the people and land of China. You’ll enjoy your armchair journey.

Mick Winter

Indeed, the author transports us in an uninhibited world, on the meeting of Chinese population who delivers step by step his facets. This book brings us a precise sight of the Chinese traditions, to begin with their sense of the hospitality. The author tempts us to share and to go to meet the other one. In this festive period, it is the book which it is necessary to have, because it brings you hope.

Isabelle Ait-El-Hocine

Rich in information about people and places in the interior of China

When travelers start out on a trip to multiple destinations they haven’t previously visited, most know how they are going to get to each destination and where they will stay. They might have identified restaurants they want to try. They might even have guides lined up. Jeff Brown set off for China’s interior knowing only how he was going to get to the first stop and how he would return from the last stop. His encounters with dozens of strangers to find out about transportation, food and lodging formed the heart of his trip. He befriended train attendants, bus drivers and passengers, drivers of vehicles that wouldn’t qualify for public transportation, restaurant owners, cooks, waitresses and fellow diners, shepherds who invited him into their homes, hotel attendants and hostel owners. The majority of people he met were curious about Jeff, and they treated him very warmly. 44 Days provides Jeff’s personal view of an amazing journey.

Michael Pfeiffer

I like the objectivity of the author, obviously as knowledgeable, but nonetheless avidly curious, about China as a foreigner can get. This gives him the ability, and the right, to put his observations in perspective to the Western world, while understanding how the drastic changes in Chinese society since the 90s have led to such absurd situations as with Lijiang Old Town. I enjoyed the analysis and information that pleasantly complement the most intriguing, or appalling descriptions. That’s China all right – beautiful and ugly. 44 Days is a fascinating travel book picturing the real nowadays China we hardly hear of, reported first hand by a keen eye and a very China-savvy traveler.

Anne-Marie Aubrespy, San Jose, CA

Congratulations Jeff J. Brown on completing an awesome 44 days of travel in China. Your book makes me want to travel and explore “The Middle Kingdom”! This book provides intelligent seasoned world traveler descriptions of cities, small towns and off the beaten path adventures. Your fascination with details of land, nature, places and people was fascinating and your digression of some specific situations and characters show me a diversity of difference in China. I like how your primary story is about your travels of 44 days, but you intertwine rich, detailed, travel writing with expository, interpretive writing. You provide lessons about China, history, traditions, language, culture, families, health, and religion. Your tangents from travel observations to your political analysis of the scene or circumstance is sometimes a surprise change of direction, but other times a smooth segue into what angers or uplifts you and indeed engages my traveler and internationalist interest.

Cathy C. Courtney, Houston, TX

Mr. Brown is obviously a very experienced China hand, and makes me hope for another visit to the Middle Kingdom other than my one other trek there, especially if I had him as a guide. We all need to learn more about China, as it is on the rise, as this book reminds us. Thx to Jeff Brown for spurning this reader’s interest.

Kennard Fraley, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

I absolutely love your very vivid descriptions such as the scene with the old Tibetan woman and her rosary and the description of the landscape as you get deeper into the Tibetan highlands. You have a great skill of bringing such scenes to life for the reader and an admirably rich vocabulary. Very fun to read. The vicarious traveler to China will enjoy 44 Days.

Annette Oevermann, Beijing, China

I very much like your style of writing. You are brilliant with words and are very capable of creating images through references (of movies, literary characters, situations that are generally known) and implanting them into the story. That way, something that by nature might remain foreign in the true sense to the readers is colored with imagery that s/he may be familiar with. Thus, you are able to convey more than an actual description would be able to. I found myself smiling from time to time because of the images that through association you created so skillfully…

Dirk Meyer, Beijing, China

Jeff, you should know how exciting it was to be along with you on your adventures in China. I don’t know whether to envy you that world that’s opening up in your face, or to feel sorry for all of the grief such a pioneering adventure brings. And it seems like you’re putting up with lots of that. If I were planning to follow in your footsteps I’d be mighty happy to be made aware of what’s in store and the book would be totally invaluable. No doubt about that. 44 Days is oh so informative.

Howard Helmer, NY, NY

I loved your exchange with the ladies in the new Qiqing, and your visit to Lao Pu’s house and her visiting neighbor. Real insight into the people living in as obscure a place as can be found on earth. But with an ore mine next door?! You paint both pretty and not-so-pretty pictures of China. Sometimes the reading of it comes across as a handbook for backpacking tourists, and sometimes it comes across as an academic textbook. I learned more about the “gritty” China from you than I ever thought about…and learning is a really good thing, n’est pas?

Tom Arsenault, New York City, NY

Jeff’s 44 Days is like an oriental Jack Kerouac writing his road warrior tour de force, On the Road, just without the chemicals! Throw in Alexis de Tocqueville observing Chinese, American and European societies and you get the picture.

Chad Bryant, Liverpool, New York

Jeff takes us to the beautiful and memorable places in China, but not the way you’ll find in the traditional guidebooks. His combination of personal observations and researched facts provides a backstage view of the glossy brochures and make-look-good promotions. In his own style, Jeff, puts us in the shoes of an observant visitor to a world that has changed at rocket speed over the past decades, pinpointing the often undesirable effects on China’s inhabitants and foreign visitors. Take a copy of 44 Days Backpacking in China on your next trip to China and you’ll appreciate Jeff’s compassion after a day of exploring the country and navigating the crowds.

Jan Grotenbreg, California, USA

If you ever wondered about backpacking in China but we afraid to ask, this book provides the answers.

Jim Morehouse, Alexandria, VA

44 Days Backpacking in China, brought back happy memories of my own travels with the author, both in China and the Algerian Sahara some 20 years ago. The narrative is a superb blend of meticulous attention to detail, and surreal references, which both inform and entertain. It illustrates Jeff’s ethos which has always been to immerse himself in the culture of his adopted home, whilst maintaining a healthy scepticism with regards to ‘the system’. It is interesting, and in a way, pleasing, to find from Jeff’s account of his adventures in Jingtieshan, that independent travel ‘off the beaten track’ in rural China is no less challenging than it was 20 odd years ago, when we had the temerity to travel without the ‘support’ of the China International Tourist Service!

Alan Stammers, St Albans, England

Mr Brown possesses all the skills, courage and determination that truly great travel writers must have; a desire to go to those places we dream of going to but can’t and those that none of us would dream of going to even if we could. Once there he has the imagination to show us the beauty, humanity and hilarity to be found there. The last one is important and whether it’s one night exploring Paris or 44 days well off the map in rural China that’s what you will remember most.

Simon Hawtin, Bath, England

I have been following Mr. Jeff Brown’s blogs about his travel trips to various parts of the world for quite a few years, but his recent book, 44 Days Backpacking in China, is amazing and a true eye opener for me. I really liked the way he scrolled through the most neglected and not much spoken aspects of our present society in this book. Jeff speaks about his experiences about some of the condition of few individuals he encountered and I can also relate myself to that since my father is suffering from Parkinsonism, and a quote from his book “That’s not fair. He can’t do that! Hey, that’s not right. Why should my taxes pay for him? There ought to be a law!” explains a whole lot as to how unmoved we can be when it comes to other’s need. I really enjoyed this book and I am sure you will like it too. Thanks Jeff for such a wonderful book and looking forward to read more from you.

Ahmed N Syed – Hyderabad, India

– See more at: http://44days.net/public-speaking/#sthash.m0sLSzLs.dpuf


Much more than just a travelogue, 44 Days is an intimate dialogue with China’s peoples, their histories, regions, economies, cultures, work, foods and future. Unabashedly iconoclastic and a contrarian’s delight, Jeff brings down many a golden calf, as he writes as few travelers do – putting China’s relations and rapid arc of development in perspective with the United States and Europe, making 44 Days a fascinating and unique approach to today’s critically important world affairs. Traveling over 12,000km by train and bus, walking hundreds more, while climbing a few of those in vertical ascent, join Jeff as he reports from the ground up on the greatest socioeconomic transformation ever seen, 21st century China – our planet’s soon to be greatest superpower. How will Baba Beijing, China’s central government behave, while honoring its 2,200 year old Heavenly Mandate for 20% of the human race? After 500 years of being masters of the world, what will the great historical Industrial Age powers do in response – adapt or lash out? All of our standards of living and lifestyles, even our species’ survival, depend on these soon to be events. Funny, enlightening & with an eye for the right details, 44 Days provides unique perspectives to these new century issues. It will keep you amused and thinking, as Jeff takes you traveling in, across and over five wild and wooly Western China provinces, face to face with the local people. Includes 125+ photos, maps and charts.

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