The Peking Express: The Bandits Who Stole a Train, Stunned the West, and Broke the Republic of China

PublicAffairs: Perseus. Apr. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9781541701700. $30. HIST
In 1923, the world was shocked when a luxury train traveling between Shanghai and Beijing was hijacked in the Shandong province. Beijing-based lawyer Zimmerman (China Law Deskbook) brings back this largely forgotten episode by telling the story of how a group of desperate bandits pulled off the heist and kidnapped a multitude of Chinese and foreign notables, such as Lucy Aldrich, the sister-in-law of John D. Rockefeller. Theoretically, the Republic of China government ruled the nation, but, in practice, powerful local warlords divided the country and were the real authorities on the ground. This reality created the desperate situation in which large bandit gangs thrived, and also complicated the ability of foreign governments to successfully negotiate the release of their captive citizens, most of whom were held in a remote mountain hideout for nearly a month. The vivid descriptions of the physical environment and the many interesting characters involved make this an exciting read for scholars and novices alike.
VERDICT Highly recommended for any reader interested in 20th-century Chinese history, especially the Warlord Era of 1916–28.
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