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About The Book

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.

About The Author

Sam Kittner

Adam Brookes was born in Canada and grew up in the United Kingdom. For many years he was a journalist for BBC News, working as a correspondent in Beijing, as well as in Indonesia and the United States. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.  


Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (February 14, 2023)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982149307

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Raves and Reviews

“A fascinating and inspiring story of triumph and the tragedy of war…a story better than Monuments Men.” —Wall Street Journal

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

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

“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

“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

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

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