Books by Bill Porter

THE SILK ROAD by Bill Porter
Released: Feb. 9, 2016

"Fans of Owen Lattimore, The Road to Oxiana, Aurel Stein, and other like-minded ventures and adventurers will find Porter's latest a pleasure and an inspiration."
In this latest installment in his decadeslong journey through China, Porter (South of the Clouds, 2015, etc.) wanders westward into the mountains, never quite courting danger, never quite avoiding it.Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 10, 2015

"As satisfying as any trip by Paul Theroux but with a much less prickly and much more forgiving narrator."
Journalist/translator and intrepid traveler Porter (Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China, 2008, etc.) takes readers on another virtual journey into the China few Westerners know.Read full book review >
ZEN BAGGAGE by Bill Porter
Released: Dec. 1, 2008

"An erudite backpacking journey by a true dharma bum."
Peripatetic journalist and translator Porter (Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits, 1993) ventures again deep into the mountainous reaches of China, seeking the remote paths of the first six patriarchs of Zen Buddhism. Read full book review >
ROAD TO HEAVEN by Bill Porter
Released: June 21, 1993

Porter, who as ``Red Pine'' has written several studies of Eastern religions (The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, 1989, etc.— not reviewed), now clambers over the Chugnan mountains of central China in search of solitary mystics and saints. The author sets out in the spring of 1989 with photographer Steven Johnson, and immediately runs up against Beijing's official line that hermits no longer exist in China. But of course they do, and by bumping from mountain to mountain and knocking on one monastery door after another, Porter ferrets out nearly two dozen examples of what he calls ``the happiest and wisest people in China.'' Some readers may balk at Porter's description, for while a number of the hermits—mostly elderly Buddhist monks, though a few are nuns, young, or Taoist—radiate bliss, others talk of loneliness or sorrow. And while some offer simple truths (``If you don't practice, you achieve nothing''), others bat away Porter's questions (`` `What sort of practice do you do?'... Chi-Ch'eng: `I just pass the time' ''), or slip from truth to truism (``If someone is drowning and you can't swim, it doesn't do any good to jump in yourself''). But this matters little, since the hermits are charming and, in any case, the bulk of Porter's narrative consists not of hermit-chat but of a loose blend of history and travelogue. Porter unfolds a dizzying panorama of cliffs and valleys, crumbling monasteries and canny abbots, all the while discoursing on the rise of Taoism, its encounter with Buddhism, the lives of past hermits, the outlines of Tantra. Lessons emerge: the value of silence; the need to balance inner practice with community service; the differing aims of hermits, with some of them questing after immortality, others seeking escape from illusion. As travelogue/history, cluttered; as ethnographic resource, unique—and as for those hermits, they're the salt of the earth. (Thirty-three b&w photographs) Read full book review >