Fragile Cargo

Fragile Cargo

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


'The kind of history deserving of a cinematic blockbuster' Julia Lovell, Literary Review

'[A] gripping and meticulously researched account of an epic effort to transport delicate scrolls, paintings and carvings thousands of miles under the threat of bombing and invasion' Rana Mitter, Times Literary Supplement

'Brilliant and thrilling... A tale of daring and adventure... A desperate race against time' Paul French, South China Morning Post

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.

'Fascinating... Brookes marries a reporter's grasp of detail with a novelist's narrative flair to bring clarity and readability to a complicated period of China's troubled history' Mail on Sunday


  • 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

About the author

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes grew up in the UK and was a journalist with BBC News for many years. As a foreign correspondent he was based in Indonesia, China and the United States. Along the way he reported from many other countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea. He lives in Washington DC.
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