What is it like to radically change your life? Writer Alec Ash meets the Chinese who are doing just this, ‘reverse migrating’ from the cities to the remote countryside of southwest China — and joins them himself, in an extraordinary and inspiring journey of self-discovery.
In 2020, Alec Ash left behind his old life as a journalist in buzzy Beijing, and moved to Dali, a rural valley in China’s Yunnan province, centred around a great lake shaped like an ear and overlooked by the Cang mountain range. Here, he hoped to find the space and perspective to mend heartbreak, and escape the trappings of fast-paced, high-pressured city life.
Originally home to the Bai people, Dali has become a richly diverse community of people of all ages and backgrounds, with one shared goal: to reject the worst parts of modernity and live more simply, in tune with the natural world and away from the nexus of authoritarian power. It is into this community that Alec embeds himself, charting his first year of life in Dali among these fascinating neighbours, from political dissidents to bohemian hippies.
The Mountains Are High is a beautifully written, candid memoir about how reevaluating what is really important and taking a leap of faith to reach it can genuinely transform your life. As one of the ‘new migrants’ tells Alec when he arrives: it is easy to change your environment, far more difficult to change your mind.
‘The Mountains Are High is a fascinating story of modern China, told from the perspective of those trying to escape it. Alec Ash conjures up the paradise of Dali and the colourful characters that live there with an eye for the surreal. A writer of great talent.’
Charlie Gilmour, author of Featherhood
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‘I am deeply impressed that Alec was able to create a new life for himself in this remote corner of rural China where “the mountains are high and the emperor far away,” and indeed, to gain a new perspective on life. Beautifully crafted, The Mountains are High was a joy to read.’
Lijia Zhang, author of Lotus