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History World War Ii

Fragile Cargo

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

by (author) Adam Brookes

Atria Books
Initial publish date
Feb 2023
World War II, China, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2023
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2023
    List Price
    $14.99 USD
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Feb 2023
    List Price

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

Spring 1933: The silent courtyards and palaces of Peking’s Forbidden City, for centuries the home of Chinese emperors, are tense with fear and expectation. Japan’s aircrafts 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? A difficult and monumental decision is made: to safeguard the treasures, they will need to be evacuated.

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 civilization, chose to resist. Fragile Cargo reminds us of the enduring power of beauty in a world beset by conflict and violence.

About the author

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.

Adam Brookes' profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Art lovers and WWII buffs will devour this riveting and bittersweet history.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Thrilling…[Brookes] has uncovered the kind of history deserving of a cinematic blockbuster.” —Literary Review

“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 Star

“A riveting read... With his meticulously researched and detailed writing, Adam Brookes takes us on a compelling journey through this extraordinary chapter of Chinese history. Fragile Cargo reads like a thriller... Gripping stuff.” —Alexi Kaye Campbell, writer of feature film Woman in Gold

“Adam Brookes has an eye for a great story and knows how to tell it. Fragile Cargo cannot fail to delight... I enjoyed it enormously.” —John Keay, author of China: A History

“Gripping and meticulously researched.”—The Times (UK)