Fragile Cargo: The World War II Race To Save the Treasures of China’s Forbidden City

Atria. Feb. 2023. 384p. ISBN 9781982149291. $28.99. HIST
Today, the vast treasures of the Chinese imperial art collections are divided between two museums in Taipei and Beijing. Former journalist Brookes tells the exciting story of how this came to be. For centuries, this was the private collection of Chinese emperors. When the last emperor was evicted from the Forbidden City in 1925, a museum was founded to take control of more than a million paintings, sculptures, pieces of porcelain, books, and other priceless items. As Japan threatened northern China in 1931, the museum administration decided to take on the daunting task of packing the items into more than 13,000 cases and relocating them to Nanjing. When the war reached that city in 1937, the collections were moved to Chongqing and other locations in western China. After the war ended 1945, the items were returned to Nanjing, but they became endangered again when the civil war between Nationalists and Communists resumed. By 1949, nearly 3,000 cases of the most valuable items in the collections were evacuated to Taiwan before Communist forces overtook the city.
VERDICT Highly recommended for anyone interested in mid-20th century China in specific, or art history in general.
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