Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk is a sprawling true story of how European explores came to Central Asia in search of buried empires and treasures in the old cities of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road was a major facilitator of both trade and ideas that linked ancient Rome and China. Gold, silk, and other valuables were carried along these passages as well as religious ideas like Zoroastrianism. Due to the great length between the two ancient empires, many towns sprang up along the Silk Road and grew rich from the trade.
But due to banditry, wars, and time these ancient cities were forgotten and buried under the deserts with all their secrets and history. Rumours and legends of these buried towns remained in local communities and eventually spread to eager European ears. This led to a sort of treasure hunting race between various European explorers to chart these ancient towns and take manuscripts and valuables.
The book follows various explorers as they set out in search of these legends an ancient treasure. We follow their journey as they venture deep into the brutal Taklamakan desert to unearth secrets and take the artefacts before they face the wrath of the Chinese.
It is a fascinating book full of adventure and excitement. It also gives a balanced opinion on the morality of European explorers coming to foreign lands and taking the artifacts. There are some fascinating characters in the book that include the Taoist priest Wang Yuanlu, who found thousands of ancient manuscripts in a hidden cave at Dunhuang and then sold them to the European explorers and gave them access to the cave. There is a fantastic photograph that shows the explorer Paul Pelliot sitting in the cave reading the manuscripts.
I would give the book 4.5/5. Fantastic non-fiction about 19th century explorers re-discovering the Silk Road. Highly informative on the history of the Silk Road and the great cities it spawned.