The "gripping and meticulously researched" (The Times, London) true story of the 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, rare Ming porcelain, and the extraordinary Stone Drums of Qin, which are adorned with 2,500-year-old inscriptions of cultural significance.
For sixteen 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 "compelling story of art, war, and adventure" (Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs: 1613-1918) follows the small group of men and women who, when faced with war's onslaught on civilization, chose to resist.