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The Forbidden Game

Golf and the Chinese Dream

Dan Washburn

In October 2015, the Chinese Communist Party banned its 88 million members from excessive drinking, improper sexual relationships… and holding golf club memberships. But, with “the rich man’s game” about to appear in the Olympics for the first time in 112 years, they also began to spend unprecedented sums on their own national golf team.

Through the lives of three men intimately involved in China’s bizarre golf scene, Dan Washburn paints an arresting portrait of a country of contradictions. A villager named Wang sees his life transformed when a top-secret golf resort springs up next to his farm – despite the building of golf courses being illegal. Western executive Martin, whose firm manages the construction of golf courses, is always looking over his shoulder for Beijing’s “golf police”. And for security guard Zhou, making it as a professional golfer could be his way into China’s new middle class. Using the unique lens of The Forbidden Game, Washburn gleans rich insights into the politics and people of one of the most powerful and enigmatic nations on earth.

  • Publication date: May 19, 2016
  • ISBN: 9781780747392
  • RRP: £9.99
  • Pages: 336
  • Publication date: May 19, 2016
  • ISBN: 9781786070203
  • RRP: £4.99
  • Pages: 336


‘Washburn weaves colourful narratives’  

Financial Times, Best Books of the Year


Los Angeles Review of Books

"I know of no narrative that surpasses The Forbidden Game [on the subject of Chinese corruption]...vivid [and] revealing."

Literary Review

‘Engrossing… a marvellous and subtle book’


‘Strikingly original… this is a tale of modern China’

Wall Street Journal

'Washburn focuses on the stories of three especially intriguing characters associated with the rise of golf in China, and in telling their stories he provides his readers with a sense of what the country was, is, and may become.'


‘Tackles great themes… bring[s] China to life… Gripping [and] revealing’

The Economist

'An intriguing study … An absorbing read.'

Golf Digest

'Excellent...[a] colourful account of the rise of golf in China.'

Financial Times

‘An illuminating portrait of modern China’ 

New Statesman

‘Rigorously reported... Washburn captures China's shift from its agrarian roots toward more Western pursuits in this engaging story.’

Publishers Weekly

'The stunning rise of China is usually told through upheaval in the country's politics and the economy. Dan Washburn has been smart enough to spot a much underestimated way to tell the tale – the phenomenon of golf – a sport which has thrived even as it has been repressed. The story of golf ("green opium: in the words of some government officials) has it all in China – from the wild west developments of courses to inspiring stories of success and dark politics.'

Richard McGregor, author of The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers and Washington Bureau Chief for the Financial Times

Dan Washburn

Dan Washburn is an award-winning reporter and managing editor at the Asia Society. His writing has appeared in the FT Weekend Magazine, The Economist, the Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Policy, Golf World, Slate and He is also the founding editor of, one of the most widely read English-language websites about China. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Author page

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