In 1934, explorer Peter Fleming journeyed across Chinese Turkistan from Beijing to Kashgar on foot and horseback. The Englishman's News from Tartary became a transatlantic best-seller, and half a century later has inspired Stevens to retrace Fleming's route and write his own book. Stevens was unprepared for the China he encountered, apparently having read little else before setting out with his young party of a woman and two men, one of whom, having once lived in China, served as a translator. Disappointed in the China of the 80's and outraged at the inconveniences the trip entailed, Stevens' observations center around dirty toilets (""no wa wa, no flushee""); lack of hot water; bureaucratic snarls; filthy, overcrowded trains and buses; and revolting food. His tour group fought boredom by listening to the Talking Heads on a Walkman, looking at pictures of their girlfriends, reading ""airplane novels,"" and pretending to be back in the US. One of the men, who joined the group to be part of ""the next weird thing"" Stevens did, left early. The others doggedly stuck it out to the end. Stevens writes that China is ""ugly and inefficient, joyless and numbingly monotonous,"" with towns like army outposts, ""graceless and hateful."" This is experiential travel writing, almost totally devoid of historical perspective or larger contemporary context. It makes for a book as joyless and monotonous as the only China Stevens seems able to perceive.