The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road, and the Rise of Modern China

Overview

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. One of the last Tsarist secret agents, Mannerheim chronicled almost every facet of China's modernization, from education reform and foreign investment to Tibet's struggle for independence.

On July 6, 2006, writer Eric Enno Tamm boards that same train, ...

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The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road, and the Rise of Modern China

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Overview

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. One of the last Tsarist secret agents, Mannerheim chronicled almost every facet of China's modernization, from education reform and foreign investment to Tibet's struggle for independence.

On July 6, 2006, writer Eric Enno Tamm boards 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 a century ago and today.

Along the way, Tamm offers piercing insights into China's past that raise troubling questions about its future. As Confucius once wrote, "Study the past if you would divine the future," and that is precisely what Tamm does in The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this lengthy volume, Canadian journalist Tamm (Beyond the Outer Shores) chronicles the journey Baron Gustaf Mannerheim took in 1906 from St. Petersburg to Beijing by retracing his steps 100 years to the day later. Asked by Czar Nicholas II to collect secret intelligence on the Qing Dynasty's sweeping reforms, Mannerheim sketched Chinese garrison towns, took over a thousand photographs, and mapped three thousand kilometers of his route, in turn precisely documenting China's modernization. Tamm utilizes Mannerheim's extensive journals to effectively recreate sights and sounds across a vast landscape in an effort to better understand China's future by examining its past. The more gripping sections, however, are those in which Tamm details his own more recent trek through "a gauntlet of political and geographic extremes, including some of the world's hottest deserts, highest mountain ranges and cruelest dictatorships." Tamm writes of poverty in China, ethnic factions, pollution, communism, and occasional crass consumerism within his travelogue. In doing so, he provides substantial insight on the contradictions and concerns that define much of the country today. (May)
Kirkus Reviews

A complicated, ambitious travel adventure through modern Inner Asia, tracing the 1906–08 trek by a Russian spy commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II.

The account of the secretive two-year journey undertaken by Baron Gustaf Mannerheim was not published until 1940, when it was highly admired by Hitler. Journalist Tamm (Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell, 2004, etc.) only discovered Mannerheim'sAcross Asia from West to East recently, and embarked on his trip in 2006 to retrace the baron's arduous ethnographic journey through the last years of the Qing Dynasty, when modern currents were eradicating the old order—not unlike the cataclysmic changes shaking China to this day. In 1906, Russia was reeling from its humiliating defeat by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, and enlisted Mannerheim, an officer in the Imperial Army, to undertake the mission through the Asian provinces to gather information on all aspects of Chinese reforms, defensive preparations, politics, colonization and the role of the Dalai Lama (whom Mannerheim got to meet), all in preparation for a possible Russian military incursion. Like Mannerheim, Tamm is intensely curious about the role of China on the world stage, and pursues similar questions about what kind of China will emerge from these wrenching attempts at modernization. Tramping from St. Petersburg to Peking proved a mind-boggling trajectory, penetrating myriad ethnic pockets, Mannerheim by caravan, Tamm by airplane, train, bus and car. Each man encountered all manner of suspicious or friendly people, mishaps and illness. Along the way, Tamm read Mannerheim's diary—"aloof, impersonal and even churlish at times"—to gain a deeper understanding of this singular character.

A well-edited work chronicling a truly inspired journey, leaving readers hopeful about Chinese progress as well as full of questions.

From the Publisher

Praise for The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds

"A complicated, ambitious travel adventure through modern Inner Asia . . . a truly inspired journey." —Kirkus

“Following in the footsteps of Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the last Tsarist spy in the so-called Great Game, Tamm has written a grand sweep of a narrative. It combines a long and arduous physical journey—9 months and 17,000 kilometers from St. Petersburg across the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi desert to Beijing—with the revelations of high stakes history—espionage in virtually unknown territory in the early years of the twentieth century. At its core, this is a journey into the soul of the Middle Kingdom, and the roots of modern China. Full of wild characters, harsh geography, and historical surprise, Tamm’s journey reveals him to be at once an intrepid adventurer, fine writer, and discerning historian. Altogether a wonderful book.” —Wade Davis

Praise for Beyond the Outer Shores

“Tamm’s account of Ricketts’s short life . . . is an engrossing memoir. Freelance writer Tamm smartly weaves in-depth literary analysis of Steinbeck’s fiction into his narrative, though writing relatively little about mythologist Joseph Campbell’s spiritual explorations . . . Tamm writes with impassioned honesty about his subject’s many dimensions.” —Publishers Weekly

“Tamm . . . presents an affecting and mind-expanding group portrait of three creative thinkers.” —Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582437347
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Eric Enno Tamm is an author and journalist. His first book, Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell, was a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Toronto Star, among others. Tamm currently lives in Ottawa.
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Table of Contents

Notes xi

Prologue: Crossing the Mannerheim Line xiii

Eurasia

1 St. Petersburg: The Secret Agent 1

2 Azerbaijan: The Nobels' Prize 19

3 Turkmenistan : Fear and Loathing 39

4 Uzbekistan: The Great Game Redux 57

5 Kyrgyzstan : Travels on the Synthetic Road 81

Western China

6 Kashgar: Mission Impossible 109

7 To Khotan: Oases and Outposts 133

8 Tian Shan Range : The Horse That Leaps through Clouds 155

9 Urumoj: The Banquet 177

10 To Dunhuang: Treasure Hunt 195

11 Hexi Corridor: Barbarians Inside the Gate 215

12 Lanzhou: The Chinese Renaissance 241

13 Labrang: Stoned 265

Northern China

14 Xi'an: Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics 289

15 Henan: The Harmonious Countryside 313

16 Taiyuan: Opium of the People 337

17 Wutai Shan: The Wanderer 359

18 Inner Mongolia: The Soot Road 375

19 Beijing: Reawakening 395

Epilogue: To the Finland Station 427

Acknowledgments 441

A Note on Sources 445

Endnotes 447

Selected Bibliography 467

Index 477

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