Two epic journeys along the Silk Road – past and present – offer a riveting and cautionary tale about the breathtaking rise of modern China.
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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. [...]
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.
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: [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
In 2006, I visited Osh, Central Asia’s most ancient Silk Road market in southern Kyrgyzstan, for a few days while researching my book. I spent time investigating the Osh and Karasuu bazaars as part of my interest in the New Silk Road. (Chapter 5 is titled “Travels on the Synthetic Road.”) I never felt any [...]