Liam D'Arcy Brown both speaks Chinese and writes excellent English prose. His book Green Dragon, Sombre Warrior, recounts his trip around the four compass points of China. He travels around China by train, bus and ferry, talking with the locals and those who have travelled from elsewhere in China along the way. What really stands out are the frustrations of the individuals he chats with. Ordinary Chinese who are unable to find jobs or to express themselves freely, who are constrained by corruption or tradition. I don't think that Brown set out to find these people, he just encounters them as he goes along.
In one frightening instance Brown is heavily drugged and robbed in his "soft sleeper" cabin on the train between Chengdu and Urumqi after sharing some food and drink with a couple of fellow passengers. So far as I can tell, that's not a common occurence on Chinese trains, but it does make me feel that much more paranoid about our own train trips planned for China.