THE BOOK

A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China

A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China

Two epic journeys along the Silk Road – past and present – offer a riveting and cautionary tale about the breathtaking rise of modern China.


PROLOGUE

PROLOGUE

Crossing the Mannerheim Line I spent almost a week in Finland conducting interviews and doing research prior to departing for St. Petersburg. In 2005, I had also visited Finland and Russian-occupied Karelia to conduct research and tour the Mannerheim Line with Finnish friends. I arrived in Finland in the western port of Turku via ferry [...]


CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 1

St. Petersburg: The Secret Agent I spent six days in St. Petersburg, touring Gustaf Mannerheim’s old haunts, interviewing scholars and immersing myself in the city’s grand architecture and cultural institutions. The highlights included touring the city with retired Russian naval officer and Mannerheim aficionado Alexey Shkvarov, and interviewing the director of the State Hermitage Museum [...]


CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 2

Azerbaijan: Nobels’ Prize Gustaf Mannerheim arrived in Baku on July 15, 1906. The oil town was in chaos: an attempted revolution, striking workers and ethnic clashes between Azeris and Armenians had left the oil capital both blood stained and oil soaked. It was incredibly unsafe, and so Mannerheim barely stayed a day in Baku. He [...]


CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 3

Turkmenistan: Fear and Loathing After a night-sea voyage from Baku, Gustaf Mannerheim arrived in Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) on July 16, 1906. It was a sleepy provincial backwater in the hinterlands of Russian Turkestan. However, the small town was an important strategic bridgehead. From here, the Russians built the Trans-Caspian Railway into the heart of Inner [...]


CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 4

Uzbekistan: The Great Game Redux Gustaf Mannerheim travelled via the Trans-Caspian Railway from Ashgabat to Bukhara, Samarkand and, finally, Tashkent, the capital of Russian Turkestan. In Samarkand, Paul Pelliot, the renowned French sinologist, and two other Frenchmen boarded the train. Mannerheim, who was a Russian military officer and intelligence agent, disguised himself as an ethnographic [...]


CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 5

Kyrgyzstan: Travels on the Synthetic Road From the Trans-Caspian Railway terminus in Andijan, Gustaf Mannerheim travelled by horse cart to Osh, one of the oldest markets in Central Asia and now located in Kyrgyzstan. From here, he and Paul Pelliot went north to Uzgen to procure horses at a famed animal market. They stayed in [...]


CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 6

Kashgar: Mission Impossible A day or two from Irkeshtam Pass, Gustaf Mannerheim separated from Paul Pelliot, the legendary French sinologist with whom he was travelling from Osh. The two men did not get along, and a power struggle ensued about who was in charge of the expedition. However, they both stayed at the Russian consulate [...]


CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 7

To Khotan: Oases and Outposts On October 6, 1906, Gustaf Mannerheim left Kashgar for a return expedition to Khotan, about 500 kilometres away on the southern fringe of the Taklimakan Desert. His mission was to investigate rumours of Japanese and British military officers doing secret reconnaissance in the region. It was a monotonous, grueling trek [...]


CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 8

Tian Shan Range: The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds From Kashgar, Gustaf Mannerheim ventured northward to the foothills of the Tian Shan range. The Chief of the Russian General Staff had instructed him to conduct reconnaissance of the alpine passes and ethnic groups living in the shadow of the Tian Shan range. He left Kashgar [...]


CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 9

Urumqi: The Banquet Gustaf Mannerheim rested for a month in Urumqi in the summer of 1907. He stayed at the Russian consulate in the south of the city, and visited with local mandarins and Duke Lan, the exiled Manchu nobleman who helped to instigate the anti-foreign uprising and attack on the Peking Legations in 1900. [...]


CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 10

From Urumqi, Gustaf Mannerheim travelled over the Bogda Shan range to the ancient ruined cities scattered in the Turpan Depression. He spent time collecting manuscript fragments and other ancient scraps at the ruins of Jiaohe and Gaocheng, and visited the Buddhist caves at Bezeklik in the Flaming Mountains and in a gorge behind the Uyghur village of Toyuk. He then continued on to the eastern part of Xinjiang, visiting Barkol and Hami before crossing the border into Gansu Province. In Gansu, his first significant stop was Dunhuang, an ancient crossroads on the Silk Road.


CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 11

Hexi Corridor: Barbarians Inside the Gate Route Map Click on the features to view details about Mannerheim’s route from Jiayuguan into territories traditionally occupied by the Western and Eastern Yugur peoples. The modern Sunan Yugur Autonomous County is shaded orange on the map and my route is depicted by the blue line. View Chapter 11: [...]


CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 14

Xi’an: Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics On April 28, 1908, Gustaf Mannerheim’s small horse caravan entered the western gate of the fortress wall surrounding Xi’an. The city, located in Central China, is one of four ancient capitals. It was once known as Chang’an and had been the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. Yet it wasn’t [...]


CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 13

Labrang: Stoned In 1906, the Chief of the Russian General Staff instructed Gustaf Mannerheim to “assess general conditions and local attitudes to Chinese policies, the political movements in regions or in local tribes toward self-government, [and] the role of the Dalai Lama in such movements.” So from Lanzhou, he ventured into southern Gansu or what [...]


CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 12

Lanzhou: The Chinese Renaissance In 1907, Lanzhou was still an archaic outpost whose fortified clay walls ran for two kilometres along the Yellow River. It lay pinched at a narrow spot in the dramatic river gorge, surrounded by mountaintop temples, terraced farmland and fruit groves. Inside the fortress town, streets recently paved in cobblestone were [...]


CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 15

Henan: The Harmonious Countryside After twenty-two months of travelling through the dusty steppes and torrid deserts of Inner Asia and Western China, Gustaf Mannerheim arrived in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, on May 29, 1908. He felt that he had finally “reached the civilized zone of China” with railways, Chinese speaking broken French, telegraph [...]


CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 16

Taiyuan: Opium of the People In 1908, Gustaf Mannerheim noted the rich coal and mineral deposits of Shanxi province. “In the future,” he wrote in his military report, “its material riches will be an inexhaustible source for the state treasury.” Its modern mining and steel industries were still nascent and largely dependent on foreign investment, [...]


CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 18

Inner Mongolia: The Soot Road From Datong, Gustaf Mannerheim crossed the Great Wall of China into Inner Mongolia and a grassland steppe that was traditionally dominated by Mongol tribes. However, in 1908, the military governor of Inner Mongolia was being put on trial for a lucrative scheme to colonize these wild pasture lands with Han [...]


CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 17

Wutai Shan: The Wanderer At first, Wutai Shan seems like an odd stopover for Gustaf Mannerheim, a Russian spy tasked with assessing China’s strength and the loyalty of its ethnic minorities, particularly Muslims, Mongols and Tibetans. It is one of four sacred mountains for Chinese Buddhism, and is located in a remote knot of mountains [...]


CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 19

Beijing: Reawakening After two years trekking across the Silk Road, Gustaf Mannerheim arrived in Peking on July 26, 1908. He stayed at a posh hotel kitty-corner to the Russian legation in the capital’s Legation Quarter. He remained in Peking for two months working on his military intelligence report on modernization and reform in the late [...]


EPILOGUE

EPILOGUE

To the Finland Station Gustaf Mannerheim had originally planned to return to St. Petersburg via Japan and the United States, or perhaps via India and the Suez Canal, but he was terribly short of money. The only option remaining, he grumbled in a letter to his brother, would be “the unpleasant railway trip across Siberia.” [...]