On July 6, 1906, Baron Gustaf Mannerheim boarded the midnight train from St. Petersburg, charged by Tsar Nicholas II to secretly collect intelligence on the Qing Dynasty’s sweeping reforms that were radically transforming China. The last Tsarist agent in the so-called Great Game, Mannerheim chronicled almost every facet of China’s modernization, from reform of education, foreign investment and industry to the military, Muslim borderlands and Tibet’s struggle for independence.
On July 6, 2006, writer Eric Enno Tamm boarded that same train, intent on following in Mannerheim’s footsteps. Initially banned from China, Tamm devises a cover and retraces Mannerheim’s route across the Silk Road, discovering both eerie similarities and seismic differences between the Middle Kingdoms of today and a century ago. Trekking overland 17,000 kilometres to Beijing, he runs a gauntlet of political and geographic extremes including some of the world’s hottest deserts and cruellest dictatorships.
Along the way, Tamm offers piercing insights into China’s past that raise troubling questions about its future.
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