Fragile Cargo The World War II Race to Save the Treasures of China's Forbidden City

Format: Hardcover
Pub. Date: 2023-02-14
Publisher(s): Atria Books
List Price: $28.99

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The extraordinary true story of how a group of bold and determined museum curators saved the priceless treasures of China’s Forbidden City in the years leading up to World War II and beyond.

1924: Two days before Christmas, a small and clandestine group of professors, curators, and historians made their way through the enormous gates and towering vermillion walls of Peking’s Forbidden City, for centuries the home to the Chinese emperors. For the first time in its history, the city’s vast and priceless Imperial collection was carefully catalogued. Everything, from ornate jade carvings to exquisite jewels and historical archives, was counted and noted for the future Palace Museum.

But even as the museum opened to international acclaim, tensions were rising in China. Rival factions rose up to destabilize the newly formed Republic of China and by 1932, Japanese pilots were bombing Shanghai. In the increasingly vulnerable city of Peking, the Palace Museum’s curator made a difficult and monumental decision: to safeguard the treasures, they would need to be evacuated.

The task seemed impossible—the museum housed over a million objects that ranged from heavy thrones to impossibly fragile porcelain masterworks. Which objects would be saved? Where would they be hidden? And how could they be safely packed and transported?

What followed was an unbelievable and perilous journey through a vast country facing tremendous upheaval and conditions as varied as icy winter storms to boiling heatwaves. Now, the full story is finally revealed and the men and women who helped saved China’s precious cultural history are given their due in this unforgettable book. Fragile Cargo reminds us of the enduring power of beauty in a world beset by war and violence.

Author Biography

Adam Brookes is a Canadian-born novelist and journalist. He is the author of several espionage thrillers, including Night HeronSpy Games, and The Spy’s Daughter. He worked for the BBC in Indonesia before becoming the BBC’s Beijing correspondent in China. He divides his time between Washington, DC, and London.

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