Adam Brookes, "Fragile Cargo: The World War II Race to Save the Treasures of China's Forbidden City" (Atria Books, 2022)


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The two parallel Palace Museums in Beijing and Taiwan, and their separate collections of thousands of precious artworks and artifacts from imperial times, reflects a key moment in the 1940s when the Republic of China and the People’s Republic became distinct entities. But the very survival of these vast troves of porcelain, sculpture, jade, paintings, books and many other items up to that moment was far from guaranteed given the epochal events unfolding across East Asia in the early part of the twentieth century.

In Fragile Cargo: The World War II Race to Save the Treasures of China's Forbidden City (Atria Books, 2022), Adam Brookes tells the story of the evacuation and survival of these delicate ‘treasures’, which during the 1930s to the 1940s travelled from their erstwhile palace home thousands of miles into western China, following rivers, railways and roads to evade the tides of war and revolution which threatened to catch up with and destroy them. Marshaled by attentive and often very brave curators, these objects and their improbable physical and symbolic journeys offer – in Brookes’ vivid telling – an extraordinary and revealing perspective on a critically important era of imperial collapse, civil war and foreign invasion.

Ed Pulford is an Anthropologist and Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and indigeneity in northeast Asia.

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