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  • Published: 1 October 2022
  • ISBN: 9781784743796
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $55.00

Fragile Cargo

China's Wartime Race to Save the Treasures of the Forbidden City




The gripping true story of the intrepid curators who saved China's art from the ravages of the Sino-Japanese War and WW2.

The gripping true story of the intrepid curators who saved China's finest art from the ravages of the Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

Spring 1933. The silent courtyards and palaces of Peking's Forbidden City are tense with fear and expectation. Japan's aircraft drone overhead; its troops and tanks are only hours away. All-out war between China and Japan is coming, and the curators of the Forbidden City are faced with an impossible question: how will they protect the vast imperial art collections in their charge?

The magnificent collections contain a million pieces of art - objects that carry China's deepest and most ancient memories. Among them are irreplaceable artefacts: exquisite paintings on silk, vanishingly rare Ming porcelain and the extraordinary Stone Drums of Qin, which are adorned with 2,500-year-old inscriptions of crucial cultural significance.

For sixteen terrifying years, under the quiet leadership of museum director Ma Heng, the curators would go on to transport the imperial art collections thousands of miles across China - up rivers of white water, across mountain ranges and through burning cities. In their search for safety the curators and their fragile, invaluable cargo journeyed through the maelstrom of violence, chaos and starvation that was China's Second World War.

Told for the first time in English and playing out across a vast historical canvas, this is the exhilarating story of a small group of men and women who, when faced with war's onslaught on civilisation, chose to resist.

  • Published: 1 October 2022
  • ISBN: 9781784743796
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $55.00

About the author

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes is an author and journalist, a former radio producer at the BBC World Service and BBC Beijing correspondent, whose writing draws extensively on his years in China and tries to unravel what goes on behind the scenes of intelligence and modern surveillance states. During his journalistic career he reported from over thirty countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Mongolia, for the BBC television and radio and was interviewed on multiple occasions by BBC News and The New York Times. He is the author of Night Heron, Spy Games and The Spy’s Daughter. He currently lives in the United States.

Praise for Fragile Cargo

Adam Brookes has an eye for a great story and knows how to tell it. Fragile Cargo cannot fail to delight... I enjoyed it enormously

John Keay, author of CHINA: A HISTORY

A compelling story of art, war and adventure. An extraordinary odyssey of the imperial treasures of the Forbidden City, protected by heroic and remarkable curators... Superb

Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR

A riveting read... With his meticulously researched and detailed writing, Adam Brookes takes us on a compelling journey through this extraordinary chapter of Chinese history. Fragile Cargo reads like a thriller... Gripping stuff

Alexi Kaye Campbell, writer of feature film WOMAN IN GOLD

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