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This book would be a delight for history lovers. The early 19th century was the age of discovery for many explorers. The silk road was at the edge of the unknown. The author gives a dramatic account of what transpired in this relatively unknown piece of Earth. That the Buddhist and Indian cultural influences extended so far West and North was not known to me.
Peter Hopkirk's books on central Asia have two virtues that are not often found together: they are learned, thoroughly researched works that wrap their scholarship in anecdote and conflict. Foreign Devils takes the author in the steps of a handful of sturdy explorers and antiquarians who, between about 1890 and 1940, ventured into the Taklamakan, Lop Nor and Gobi deserts in search of evidence of the civilisations which once flourished there and are now buried beneath the sand.
Literally thousands of artefacts were discovered by these intrepid individuals and mostly removed to museums in the west, notably but not exclusively to London, St Petersburg and Berlin. The stories of the extreme hardships that accompanied these expeditions are gripping, often awe-inducing. But Hopkirk doesn't neglect the moral issues: the vast majority of the items removed belong - spiritually at least - to China. The question is: had China been left to its own devices would these items have been recovered for the pleasure and education of later generations, or were the explorers saving them from degenerating to dust, never to be seen? In short, were the Foreign Devils saviours or criminals? Even if the reader comes down, as Hopkirk seems to himself, on the side of the former, there remain other serious issues; the British Museum, which displays a mere fragment of its huge collection, comes in for particular opprobrium.
This is more than just a vicarious adventure story; with the romance of the Silk Road that drew Marco Polo and so many questing travellers at an end, the reader will be left with much food for thought.
I'm particulary interested in this area (the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts and surrounding area) so I enjoyed this. The book deals with the various explorers who went to Central Asia to dig up and remove artifacts and objects to put into museums in Germany, the UK, France etc. These items did belong to the Chinese and also should remain in situ to preserve the past? But in such a turbulent area at war with itself, conflicting religions and neglect destroyed those pieces which were left there, so who is right? Its not really right to remove items such as these from cities buried in sand centuries ago, but if you don't retrieve them and put them in museums in controlled atmosphere where they can be seen, nothing is gained either, so its a conflict, but some of the tactics used by the explorers to gain access to manuscripts and then remove them to Europe are controvertial to say the least. That said, these intrepid early explorers went through great personal suffering in hostile areas not designed for human habitation in order to bring these pieces to where they can be seen and they deserve credit for that.
This is the first of Peter Hopkirk's books that I read. I so enjoyed the reading style that I have since read all his books. Not only the style, but the content is of great interest. Having travelled on the edge of the area, I have developed and interest in central asian history. I knew of Sven Hedin and his travels, but I learnt of so many more characters that have played such an important part in the understanding of the ancient history and culture of the region. The fact that Aurel Stein and others could cart away tons and tons of ancient artifacts is extraordinary. How sad that when it was clear that there was a market for manuscripts and historic things that the sites should be plundered and pillaged, split up for quick money - but that's the way of the world, I suppose.
The book is well written, it flows through in a sequential manner and is easy and compulsive reading. What a great book.
Just a fantastic and addictive to read book. This book made me want to go on my own expeditions.. I bought a second copy to gift to a friend. Highly recommended reading. But don't stop here. Buy more books and think about the colonial attitudes that made it all possible.. Read something about how the West consistently stole Art and Cultural Artefacts from the East, and consider how this is not ok. Also: go visit the museums and track down some of the archeological treasures described in this book.
A very interesting book. It goes into good detail about the various explorers, the extreme hardships and dangers they faced and the treasures they found and stripped out. It highlights the Chinese anger about the assett stripping, but qualifies it by raising the issue of whether the treasures would have been looked after any better by the Chinese. In passing it also mentions the Mildred Cable/ Francesca French book the Gobi Desert. If this book interests you then their account of their missionary work in the area will as well. There isn't too much religion in it but fascinating detail of the travel conditions and people's way of life
I bought this book after reading many cities on the Silk Road from various points in other history from as early as reading about Persia up until the modern day. The book is very thorough in it detail and gives you a sense of the hardship and friendships built up over time. I was very sad to hear the story of Dash dying from a broken heart and later on how many of the heroes become relatively unknown and passing away in to obscurity along with the great bazaars and outpost of the glorious empires that once bordered each other in the region. I really couldn't put it down and read it very fast and would definitely recommend it to any one who is interested in Central Asia history from European Empires pioneers and real life Indiana Jones.
This is my most recent of several of this author's books and I continue to be amazed at his detailed and fascinating knowledge of this time and place. His writing style is so informative and enjoyable. I whole heartedly recommend this book.
A really gripping and well written account of the race to remove frescoes, manuscripts, sculptures etc from Chinese Turkestan. A fascinating topic, although I did find myself feeling very uncomfortable and angry at times at the idea of western archaeologists just going in and removing these Chinese art works , taking them completely out of their original context. Peter Hopkirk though, does explain the dilemma, that many of these works may not have survived if they had just been left where they were - at the mercy of Chinese treasure hunters and Islamic fundamentalists.