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Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia

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The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left and finally its towns vani The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left and finally its towns vanished beneath the desert sands to be forgotten for a thousand years. But legends grew up of lost cities filled with treasures and guarded by demons. In the early years of the last century foreign explorers began to investigate these legends, and very soon an international race began for the art treasures of the Silk Road. Huge wall paintings, sculptures and priceless manuscripts were carried away, literally by the ton, and are today scattered through the museums of a dozen countries. Peter Hopkirk tells the story of the intrepid men who, at great personal risk, led these long-range archaeological raids, incurring the undying wrath of the Chinese.


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The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left and finally its towns vani The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left and finally its towns vanished beneath the desert sands to be forgotten for a thousand years. But legends grew up of lost cities filled with treasures and guarded by demons. In the early years of the last century foreign explorers began to investigate these legends, and very soon an international race began for the art treasures of the Silk Road. Huge wall paintings, sculptures and priceless manuscripts were carried away, literally by the ton, and are today scattered through the museums of a dozen countries. Peter Hopkirk tells the story of the intrepid men who, at great personal risk, led these long-range archaeological raids, incurring the undying wrath of the Chinese.

30 review for Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Daren

    Written in 1980, this is the first of Hopkirk's Central Asia books - albeit more focused on Chinese Turkestan, or what is now China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region. From what I understand this one is probably the one least involved in the Great Game, but more the precursor to it. Here Hopkirk chronicles the Europeans (archeologists and explorers) who unearthed the ancient cities of the Silk Road, removing the artifacts and manuscripts, much to the later chagrin of the Chinese. It is a contentious to Written in 1980, this is the first of Hopkirk's Central Asia books - albeit more focused on Chinese Turkestan, or what is now China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region. From what I understand this one is probably the one least involved in the Great Game, but more the precursor to it. Here Hopkirk chronicles the Europeans (archeologists and explorers) who unearthed the ancient cities of the Silk Road, removing the artifacts and manuscripts, much to the later chagrin of the Chinese. It is a contentious topic, hard to be on the right side of - the removal of these to Europe. It is a central theme in the book, addressed again below. This book concentrates on the six men who primarily led these expeditions - most of whom are well known to the world of explorers - Sven Hedin, of Sweden; Sir Aurel Stein, for Britain (I say for, because he is Hungarian born); Albert von Le Coq, of Germany; Paul Pelliot, of France; Count Otani, or Japan; and Langdon Warner, of the USA. Each made at least one foray, most of them more than one, in to the Taklamakan Desert to brave the heat and cold and excavate the Silk Road ruins. For the benefit of European museums (as well as Japan), until the Chinese finally put an end to their expeditions, removed manuscripts, wall paintings, statues and sculptures literally by the ton. Perhaps the worst part, is that these treasures are largely not on display, and are spread among some thirty different institutions. Much as also been lost - such as the largest of the wall paintings which could not be removed from the German museum to safe storage before the war, and was destroyed as the result of Allied bombing. The Chinese bristle and demand the return of these relics, but at the time this book was written few had been returned - there are regularly articles about this, I found a couple while browsing: Global Times Post Magazine The counter argument is that the wall paintings not removed by these explorers were subsequently "shamelessly defaced by the local Mohammedans." and especially the Buddhist treasures were surely "saved from Turki fanaticism". The cultural ruination wrought by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution is infinitely greater than that resulting from removal of artifacts by these explorers. Religious fanaticism was not the only threat to the survival of these relics - farmers found the old earth valuable for enriching their fields and would excavate the ruins, or damage them irreparably with irrigation of their adjacent fields. Other arguments suggest that the relics are not all of Chinese origin, but many are Indian and all of 'High Asia' and therefore not exclusively the history of China. To the people living near these lost cities the relics were of no value - paper scraps held no interest, and they were paid for their labour, and transport - and often, as in the the case of Abbot Wang at the Caves of the Thousands Buddha's, sold the relics directly to these explorers. Hopkirk's book is well written, logically arranged, and easy to read. The explanations and situations are described in an even-handed way, and while there is an element of repetition in each story it is not laboured or unnecessary. The book is relatively short, yet packs in a great deal of detail. There are of course whole books dedicated to each expedition, but there is need for an introductory or overview of these expeditions - this is a very good place to start. 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    Murder! That was the diagnosis of Albert Von Le Coq, famed German archaeologist, upon discovering the remains of a Buddhist monk wrapped in blood-stained robes. And this unfortunate monk wasn't alone, as a nearby room housed over a hundred of his friends; stacked like cord-wood and bearing horrifying wounds. The ancient west-Chinese site of Karakhoja had played host to a slaughter... but who were the killers and why did they do it? Was it a government power-play? Religious persecution? Perhaps a Murder! That was the diagnosis of Albert Von Le Coq, famed German archaeologist, upon discovering the remains of a Buddhist monk wrapped in blood-stained robes. And this unfortunate monk wasn't alone, as a nearby room housed over a hundred of his friends; stacked like cord-wood and bearing horrifying wounds. The ancient west-Chinese site of Karakhoja had played host to a slaughter... but who were the killers and why did they do it? Was it a government power-play? Religious persecution? Perhaps a barbarian raid? A consistent theme in archaeology is uncertainty; even the experts will never know the whole story. Whatever drama we turn up beneath centuries of sand is certain to tell an incomplete tale. Who were these monks and why were they murdered? We have no narrator to fill in the gaps. And so Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, an account of several archaeological expeditions to central Asia and China, tells not one timeless story but bits and pieces of a hundred. We learn of a fortress' defenders desperate final charge, trade-towns lost to the vagaries of economics, persecuted religions on the run, and centuries of artwork plastered one fresco on top of another. And layered like a patina on top of these ancient stories are the stories of the archaeologists. So we also learn about an explorer's perilous trek across a desert, of the ultimate German archaeological odd-couple, of a cavalier Frenchman with a brilliant linguistic mind, of an adventurous pair of sister-nuns, and of an enterprising local con-man who scammed one educated archaeologist after another. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road kept me turning pages with its clean, easy style and consistent revelations. But more than that it opened up two new worlds; the world that was lost to history and the world of those that did the finding. Edited 8-27-2020

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dmitri

    This is a good short work on the history of archaeology around the vast desert in far western China. It inspired me to travel in Xinjiang, Gansu and Tibet, areas I will never regret visiting. The main links in the region were intercontinental trade, Han dynasty military outposts and Buddhist pilgrimage routes to India. The author Peter Hopkirk was a journalist and popular historian of the British and Russian empires, and the 19th century exploration of Central Asia. In this story the Great Game This is a good short work on the history of archaeology around the vast desert in far western China. It inspired me to travel in Xinjiang, Gansu and Tibet, areas I will never regret visiting. The main links in the region were intercontinental trade, Han dynasty military outposts and Buddhist pilgrimage routes to India. The author Peter Hopkirk was a journalist and popular historian of the British and Russian empires, and the 19th century exploration of Central Asia. In this story the Great Game was played not for political influence, but in competition to procure (or steal) ancient artifacts for display in the museums of Europe. Hopkirk begins with a description of the remote geography and punishing climate of the Taklamakan desert, ringed by the Tianshan, Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains. Chinese monks Faxian and Xuanzang went to India in 400 and 600 AD, returning with texts and establishing temples. Early western explorers include Sven Hedin, famous Swedish geographer and later Nazi sympathizer. British archaeologist Aurel Stein excavated abandoned oasis cities along the silk road routes, and bought (or bribed) art and manuscripts from temple monasteries. French, Germans and Japanese joined the hunt, with similar discovery and theft. Hopkirk does a reasonable job criticizing the nascent archaeological techniques of the era, and the morality of carting off cultural heritage to distant lands. He also notes other threats that damaged or destroyed cave temples and ancient sites, such as iconoclasm, earthquakes, war and politics, weather and even agriculture. The Buddhist manuscripts of Mogao, including the world's oldest printed book, now reside in the British Museum in London. Priceless frescoes chiselled from the walls of Bezeklik were destroyed in the Allied bombing of Berlin. The book is concise but offers a great deal of information in a readable style.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sicofonia

    Foreign Devils on the Silk Road tells the story of several archaeologists (Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Klementz, von Le Coq and Langdon Warner to name a few) who travelled across the barren lands of the Taklamakan desert in the early 20th Century, on a quest to search for remains of Asian ancient civilizations. To say "search for remains" might be a bit of a euphemism; because what these people did was plain pillaging. They took away whatever stuccos, paintings, figurines, scrolls and other stuff Foreign Devils on the Silk Road tells the story of several archaeologists (Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Klementz, von Le Coq and Langdon Warner to name a few) who travelled across the barren lands of the Taklamakan desert in the early 20th Century, on a quest to search for remains of Asian ancient civilizations. To say "search for remains" might be a bit of a euphemism; because what these people did was plain pillaging. They took away whatever stuccos, paintings, figurines, scrolls and other stuff they managed to find. In typical Peter Hopkirk fashion, the book is written in a easy-to-follow and straightforward manner. Yet it's the way Hopkirk devises a storyline that reads like a spies novel which makes each one of his books so compelling. To me, this one is no exception. But readers beware!, this is only a 250 pages book. It does not intent to be a authoritative work on the subject, hence some chapters are not all the meaty what one would like/expect them to be. However, this is solved by a selected bibliography related to each "devil" so that the reader can delve on those books to find out more. As a conclusion, Peter Hopkirk points out how all these men are now long forgotten. In contrast to how other men of science have been treated by the general public, these men seem to have fallen in a pit of oblivion (in historical terms). General public fail to recognize the names of Aurel Stein, Sven Hedin or Paul Pelliot and what they achieved. Maybe it is because all of them believed that the end justifies the means and in doing so, after sacking archaeological treasures from other countries, they became outcasts of a sort in the scientific community. Highly recommended book at any rate.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gerald Sinstadt

    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 thousand 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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    TR Foreign Devils on the Sil Road TR The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia TR Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet

  7. 4 out of 5

    K.N.

    Hopkirk's book focuses primarily on the men who travelled the Silk Road in search of ancient treasures. Clearly I was born the wrong sex, in the wrong time; while a lot of these men may be considered treasure-hunting rogues, many of them were highly intelligent, gifted, and brave to have completed these expeditions and excavations, and they have my awe and respect. Their stories and rivalries were very interesting to read. The other theme of the book touches on the status of these lost treasures. Hopkirk's book focuses primarily on the men who travelled the Silk Road in search of ancient treasures. Clearly I was born the wrong sex, in the wrong time; while a lot of these men may be considered treasure-hunting rogues, many of them were highly intelligent, gifted, and brave to have completed these expeditions and excavations, and they have my awe and respect. Their stories and rivalries were very interesting to read. The other theme of the book touches on the status of these lost treasures. Many pieces were lost before the "foreign devils" even found them, and others were destroyed during the Word Wars. Others were moved only to remain in storage to this day! Despite some of the sad demises of men like Hedin, Stein, and von Le Coq, I find the avoidable losses of these "lost treasures" most depressing. The positive I've taken from this book is my desire to learn more and the addition the other books and journals I've added to my reading list on this topic.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Yigal Zur

    great tale of the silk road.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Converse

    During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, until the 1920s, several European and American explorers searched western China for artifacts associated with the silk road, which was a collection of trails connecting China with the Middle East and India. The significance of this area is that it preserved writing and artifacts of a variety of religions, principally Buddhism but also Nestorian Christians and Manicheasm, whose early history has not survived elsewhere. The area they searched During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, until the 1920s, several European and American explorers searched western China for artifacts associated with the silk road, which was a collection of trails connecting China with the Middle East and India. The significance of this area is that it preserved writing and artifacts of a variety of religions, principally Buddhism but also Nestorian Christians and Manicheasm, whose early history has not survived elsewhere. The area they searched is near the border of China meets the borders of India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakstan. This locality is surrounded by the Kunlun Mountains to the south (which separate it from the Tibetan plateau, the KarakKarakoram Range to the southwest, the Tien Shan mountains to the west and north, and the Gobi Desert to the east. In between these mountains is the Takla Makan Desert, an extremely dry area (much more so than the Gobi, apparently). Running down from the mountains are rivers, fed by glaciers. During roughly 300 to 1000 AD, there were a number of cities, benefiting from the trade along the Silk Road in oases along these rivers, in areas now covered by sand. There are still oases in the area, but they have shifted (generally closer to the mountains) as the glacial melt as slowly subsided. Furthermore, they prosperity of the area varied in direct proportion to the ability or interest of the Chinese in policing and protecting the Silk Road. Finally, the arrival of the Muslim religion in the area proved to be a damper to trade. As a consequence of these factors, cities were gradually abandoned and covered with sand. The dry environment preserved scrolls and other artifacts that would not otherwise survived. The most important explorers were the Swedish Sven Hedin, the British subject (of Hungarian descent) Aurel Stein, the German Albert von Le Coq (he was descended from French Hugeunots who settled in Germany, hence the French name), Paul Pelliot of France, the agents of the Japanese Count Kozui Otani, and the American Langdon Warner. The Russians, who were closest to the area, made a smaller impression in archaeology. Sven Hedin was primarily interested in geographical exploration, and so made fewer archaeological collections. However, Hedin was the first western explorer to cross the Takla Makan desert, showing others that it could be done. Stein was probably the best archaeologist of the lot, with an understanding of stratigraphy. One of the interesting things the explorers found was evidence of the combining of western, Indian and Chinese influences in the Buddhist art preserved in abandoned monesteries in the area. The western influence is apparently due indirectly to Alexander the Great, whose successors established kingdoms in what is now Afghanistan. Buddhism, although originally an Indian religion, reached China via the Silk Road, and picked up these western artisitic influences from what is now Afghanistan. The collections of these explorers became controversial. The Germans especially had a tendency to hack out frescos from abandoned monasteries and bring them back to Berlin (a number were destroyed by American bombing during the Second World War). Stein's collection of Buddhist manuscripts, resulting from giving a self-appointed caretaker a contribution for restoring an ancient site, is also contraversial. By the middle of the 1920s Chinese opinion was sufficiently hostile that further western exploration (and taking the stuff back) was abandoned. The book was first published in 1980.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pei-jean Lu

    The story of the rediscovery of the most famous overland route in history can be tied to the many European Explorers who traversed the desolate Takalmarkan desert to find the lost cities along the route. However, these discoveries are also clouded in controversy due to the removal of these relics and manuscripts from the region. Interesting and insightful this book doesn’t attempt to sway your opinion on the subject of stolen relics and whether or not it was the right thing to do, but rather tel The story of the rediscovery of the most famous overland route in history can be tied to the many European Explorers who traversed the desolate Takalmarkan desert to find the lost cities along the route. However, these discoveries are also clouded in controversy due to the removal of these relics and manuscripts from the region. Interesting and insightful this book doesn’t attempt to sway your opinion on the subject of stolen relics and whether or not it was the right thing to do, but rather tells the story of the men who made the discovery

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    I spent the best part of a foggy San Francisco Sunday in the lost cities of the Taklamakan desert, one hundred years ago in the company of foreign devils – European explorers and archeologists who robbed (or rescued, depending on your point of view) the art of ancient Silk Road. Hopkirk's book was published in 1980, so undoubtedly the history is a bit out of date, but it was a great adventure. I'm looking forward to his other books. I spent the best part of a foggy San Francisco Sunday in the lost cities of the Taklamakan desert, one hundred years ago in the company of foreign devils – European explorers and archeologists who robbed (or rescued, depending on your point of view) the art of ancient Silk Road. Hopkirk's book was published in 1980, so undoubtedly the history is a bit out of date, but it was a great adventure. I'm looking forward to his other books.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    Diverting account of various European explorers/archaeologists who explored (or as far as the Chinese are concerned) raided the deserts of Central Asia for artefacts from various oasis based lost cities/trading posts dotted along the Silk Road (which started at Xian) dating from when an outward looking Chinese empire traded with the West and India, but which later became covered in sand as the irrigation systems which created the oases were left to decay.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Another excellent Hopkirk book, but not my favorite. While a collection of his usual great stories about a great cast of adventurers and explorers, it lacks the geopolitical underpinnings of the other books in this remarkable series. Still there's no such thing as "bad Hopkirk;" it's just that some is better than others, (my old roommate used to say the same thing about sex, haha). Another excellent Hopkirk book, but not my favorite. While a collection of his usual great stories about a great cast of adventurers and explorers, it lacks the geopolitical underpinnings of the other books in this remarkable series. Still there's no such thing as "bad Hopkirk;" it's just that some is better than others, (my old roommate used to say the same thing about sex, haha).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mariana Budjeryn

    A delightful Indiana Jones like account of the exploration of the Taklamakan desert in what is now the Xinjiang province of Eastern China. This was - and probably still is - truly the last frontier!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Donaghue

    This is one hell of a book. The adventures described herein are mind-bogglingly awe-inspiring, while the savagery is heart-breaking. The beginning of the book gives a very odd perspective which is not duplicated in the body of the text; that is, I was expecting a mildly moralistic tale against the deprivations and thievery of the "foreign devils" - the Europeans and, in the case of Langdon Warner, American - who saved the archaeological heritage of the Silk Road. The Chinese consider these peopl This is one hell of a book. The adventures described herein are mind-bogglingly awe-inspiring, while the savagery is heart-breaking. The beginning of the book gives a very odd perspective which is not duplicated in the body of the text; that is, I was expecting a mildly moralistic tale against the deprivations and thievery of the "foreign devils" - the Europeans and, in the case of Langdon Warner, American - who saved the archaeological heritage of the Silk Road. The Chinese consider these people - Aurel Stein, Albert von le Coq, Albert Grünwedel, Pelliot, etc. - to be treacherous thieves, robbing them of their heritage. However, as the rest of the book makes perfectly clear, these archaeologists actually saved this heritage. As a single example, on one of his expeditions, I believe it was Aurel Stein (so many different people described back and forth between chapters) who found something like 92 large Buddha statues under the sands of one of the lost towns, far too large to bring back. When he returned seven years later, they were each of them smashed to pieces! This was a typical scenario. From locals who thought that the frescoes came to life at night and so the faces had to be scratched out, to military personnel lodged in the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas and causing all sorts of carnage, were it not for these brave and indomitable archaeologists, nothing would be known about the artistic heritage of the Silk Road, dating back in some cases to the 300s AD! They are heroes of archaeology, yet China considers them the most villainous of Occidentals. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring of the stories - for myself at least, being as I am so fanatically enamored of words, scripts, and languages - is the discovery of the library of Tun-Huang. I first learnt about this maybe a decade ago, in my early teens; indeed, I was so amazed by the online digitized library that I made up my mind to learn Khotanese or Sanskrit or any of the other languages in which they were written so that I might contribute (two months of Sanskrit taught me that that was too much work than a 15 year old was willing to devote, but I did manage to irk the kids in my class by writing my notes in English though in the Devanagari script, so whenever they asked to copy I'd hand it over and say, "if you can"). This book is a favorite, and I am so saddened to see it end. I shall desperately search out any more by Peter Hopkirk or on this topic in the future.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk Other then in the time when Peter Hopkirk wrote his book, the region and places he mentions in his book are open for visitors. So within two months from now I hope to join footsteps with Sven Hedin, Aurel Stein, von Albert Le Coq, Theodor Bartus, Paul Pelliot, Langdon Warner and the Japanese count Kozui Otani and see the Silk road sites and oases for myself and discover the Chinese regions that are now called Sinkiang and Kansu. The Silk Road, whi Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk Other then in the time when Peter Hopkirk wrote his book, the region and places he mentions in his book are open for visitors. So within two months from now I hope to join footsteps with Sven Hedin, Aurel Stein, von Albert Le Coq, Theodor Bartus, Paul Pelliot, Langdon Warner and the Japanese count Kozui Otani and see the Silk road sites and oases for myself and discover the Chinese regions that are now called Sinkiang and Kansu. The Silk Road, which once linked imperial Rome and distant China, reached the height of its importance during the T’ang dynasty. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold and ivory, exotic plants and animals, as well as revolutionary new ideas, art and knowledge. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left and finally its towns vanished beneath the desert sands to be forgotten for a thousand years. But legends grew up of lost cities filled with treasures and guarded by demons. In the early years of the last century foreign explorers began to investigate these legends, and very soon an international race began for the art treasures of the Silk Road. Huge wall paintings, sculptures and priceless manuscripts were carried away, literally by the ton, and are today scattered through the museums of a dozen countries. Peter Hopkirk tells the story of the intrepid men who, at great personal risk, led these long-range archaeological raids, incurring the undying wrath of the Chinese.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aleksandar Sarkic

    Foreign devils on the silk road is one of the most interesting books i have read in recent time, if you are interested in history of central asia especially region around taklamakan desert and it's lost cities and secrets this book is for you. Peter Hopkirk really good decipts it, first great informations about ancient history of this region, the people who passed and lived there like Yuezhi and Tocharians, later the connections between ancient Chinese empire and the West. This region is so impo Foreign devils on the silk road is one of the most interesting books i have read in recent time, if you are interested in history of central asia especially region around taklamakan desert and it's lost cities and secrets this book is for you. Peter Hopkirk really good decipts it, first great informations about ancient history of this region, the people who passed and lived there like Yuezhi and Tocharians, later the connections between ancient Chinese empire and the West. This region is so important in history of human civilization but it is a shame we don't know much about it, but on other hand it gives it that much mystery. At the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century archeologist from all around the world started to explore this region, Hopkirk writes about this expedition so good that you can be there with them and feel the hot sand of Taklamakan desert. Everyone was interested in this region, British, French, Germans, Japanese, before ww II this region sadly become closed for foreign expeditions and still it is closed and shrouded in mystery.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mleczny

    Interesting account of how (mostly) European travellers and explorers plundered the relics of the Chinese Turkestan. The story is engaging and contains parts of adventure and bits of cultural explanation behind every discovery. The structure is pretty simple, as every chapter(s) is devoted to a particular expedition of a explorer/looter. Personally I miss a deeper account on the Russian side (if Langdon Warner deserved a chapter, I´m pretty sure Prejevalsky -or others-deserved one too), also on th Interesting account of how (mostly) European travellers and explorers plundered the relics of the Chinese Turkestan. The story is engaging and contains parts of adventure and bits of cultural explanation behind every discovery. The structure is pretty simple, as every chapter(s) is devoted to a particular expedition of a explorer/looter. Personally I miss a deeper account on the Russian side (if Langdon Warner deserved a chapter, I´m pretty sure Prejevalsky -or others-deserved one too), also on the Chinese side (a local context is paramount to fully understand the story!) and an equally inquiring tone regarding espionage to all the characters, and not only the Japanese. All in all, the account is, imho, too westerncentric. An interesting, altough a bit biased, account on one of the most gripping races in the history of archelogy. (7/10)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Timandra Whitecastle

    This non-fiction account reads like an Indiana Jones novel, only there‘s considerably less Nazi-punching and whip-cracking involved. Also picture several Indy‘s of various nationalities all yelling: IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM! at each other. I read this alongside the rather dry, but still excellently researched non-fiction book the Silk Road by Valerie Hansen, and they both compliment each other quite well. Hansen gives you the history and research on what we now call the Silk Road, and Hopkirk give This non-fiction account reads like an Indiana Jones novel, only there‘s considerably less Nazi-punching and whip-cracking involved. Also picture several Indy‘s of various nationalities all yelling: IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM! at each other. I read this alongside the rather dry, but still excellently researched non-fiction book the Silk Road by Valerie Hansen, and they both compliment each other quite well. Hansen gives you the history and research on what we now call the Silk Road, and Hopkirk gives you the accounts of the tomb raiders without whom many of the documents that Hansen mentions might never have been available to scholars in the west.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    Like all of Hopkirks books, this one is embued with rigourous background research and chock full of adventure and gripping stories. I absolutely love his style, a mixture of ripping yarn and high adventure. He does however, attempt to put the record straight as regards the despoiliation of ancient sites and the outright theft of antiquities. He also presents the reader with the conundrum that is one of, leave the stuff to rot and ruin or cart it off to foreign museum collections. This is the sto Like all of Hopkirks books, this one is embued with rigourous background research and chock full of adventure and gripping stories. I absolutely love his style, a mixture of ripping yarn and high adventure. He does however, attempt to put the record straight as regards the despoiliation of ancient sites and the outright theft of antiquities. He also presents the reader with the conundrum that is one of, leave the stuff to rot and ruin or cart it off to foreign museum collections. This is the story so often repeated across the ancient world by archaeologists and western adventurers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jez Keighley

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An excellent read about explorers, archeologists and grave robbers in deserts of Central Asia. The old Silk Road is full of lost cities half buried in the sand. The late 19th and early 20th century saw a flurry of mostly European adventurers searching for treasures in this area. Peter Hopkirk is never dry or academic and recognises both the heroics and the questionable nature of some of their treasure hunting. Sadly many of their artefacts lie buried in Museum storehouses never to be seen by any An excellent read about explorers, archeologists and grave robbers in deserts of Central Asia. The old Silk Road is full of lost cities half buried in the sand. The late 19th and early 20th century saw a flurry of mostly European adventurers searching for treasures in this area. Peter Hopkirk is never dry or academic and recognises both the heroics and the questionable nature of some of their treasure hunting. Sadly many of their artefacts lie buried in Museum storehouses never to be seen by anyone.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike Hanford

    Very approachable book for a reader interested in the adventure without the dusty archeological footnotes. Fascinating story, as the late 19th century European culture unearths high civilization in, truly, the middle of nowhere! The notion of the richness of the cities, settlements, and military outposts set in a land totally unknown to contemporary readers will delight anyone who pursues this tale!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I read this book as I’m fortunate to be visiting the central Asian Silk Road region next year. I knew nothing about the history of the region and was fascinated to read how these intrepid archaeologists from various countries discovered buried oasis towns, statues, artefacts and fantastic manuscripts enabling history to be pieced together. Despite being written a number of years ago, it’s worth reading this book to get a potted history of the Silk Road.

  24. 5 out of 5

    John Paige

    Peter Hopkirk is a consummate master of conveying the contemporary foreign events of Turkistan. His exhaustive knowledge and research are conveyed in an evocative style, which entraps the reader in this remarkable story of deceit and intrigue. Whilst the book was written some 40 years ago the fascinating story remains important today and has inspired me to travel to view some of the artefacts on display in Europe and around the world. Reading the book is a moving and entrancing experience.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    Nice little book with a sad note to end on: "Monasteries and caravanserais have given way to communes and tractor plants... A new road carries motor traffic over the Karakoram... Very occasionally from the heart of Marco Polo's demon-infested Desert of Lop is heard the distant thunder of a nuclear test... Aircraft and Satellites flush out remaining secrets of the Taklamakan... The last shred of mystery and romance had finally gone from the Silk Road". Nice little book with a sad note to end on: "Monasteries and caravanserais have given way to communes and tractor plants... A new road carries motor traffic over the Karakoram... Very occasionally from the heart of Marco Polo's demon-infested Desert of Lop is heard the distant thunder of a nuclear test... Aircraft and Satellites flush out remaining secrets of the Taklamakan... The last shred of mystery and romance had finally gone from the Silk Road".

  26. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Love this explorer chase to the edge of the Gobi Desert—why has no one made a movie of this yet? I admit, I came to the book with some negative views of Aurel Stein, just because he took some thousands of books from China and sent them to England. But now I see him more in the context of his time, and damn what a badass guy committed to adventure. I learned a lot!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    A dense and scholarly read that nevertheless brought to life the characters responsible for first enlightening the West about the art treasures of the Silk Road in central Asia. The book makes one think about archeology and who ancient treasures "belong" to, as well as where they should be housed once unearthed. A dense and scholarly read that nevertheless brought to life the characters responsible for first enlightening the West about the art treasures of the Silk Road in central Asia. The book makes one think about archeology and who ancient treasures "belong" to, as well as where they should be housed once unearthed.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dipra Lahiri

    Intrepid travelers from Sweden, Germany, France, Japan and America scour the vast desert lands of Central Asia for century old treasures and antiquities of the famous Silk Road. Gripping stories, intriguing cast of characters.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brian Martin

    A great read and historical account of the archaeological expeditions into Western China by foreign agents in up until WW2. Gives very detailed accounts of the journeys taken by surveyors and treasure hunters. It's a bit of an antique though. A great read and historical account of the archaeological expeditions into Western China by foreign agents in up until WW2. Gives very detailed accounts of the journeys taken by surveyors and treasure hunters. It's a bit of an antique though.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rinchen

    I've become very interested in reading about trade and life on the silk route , mainly the towns that connect with my own region of Ladakh. This was a fascinating read through the expeditions of a number of archaeologists, over a couple of decades. I've become very interested in reading about trade and life on the silk route , mainly the towns that connect with my own region of Ladakh. This was a fascinating read through the expeditions of a number of archaeologists, over a couple of decades.

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