- ISBN-10: 1408864282
- ISBN-13: 978-1408864289
- ASIN: B01EN4PSF0
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China
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The book is in four major sections; the people in Northwestern China known as the Uighurs, the Tibetan struggle, the massive conglomeration of identities in Southern China and the Golden Triangle, and finally the ethnic Koreans and Russians in the cold and bitter North.
In section one, Eimer describes the absolute uniqueness of this part of the world. The landscape, people, culture, and languages have existed in essentially the same forms for thousands of years, largely untouched by the outside world. The spread of Buddhism from India and Islam from Afghanistan into pre-dynastic China occurred in these remote and desolate deserts. This is a region of the world that resisted the might of China's most powerful dynasties (and even then the Yuan had to grant them a semi-independent state). Now, this region is undergoing rapid change as the might of modernization and sinicization combine. Some of these cities are already converted to majority Han population, and that spread is all but guaranteed to continue as the CCP suppresses traditional Uighur culture and language.
In section two, Eimer travels to Tibet. Here the book takes on a different tone. As Eimer discusses similar issues to the Uighurs, one cannot help but feel that the Tibetans have already been beaten, a possible warning to other minorities. While their identity persists, they seem a broken people who are rapidly losing their will to continue the struggle.
In section three, Eimer goes to the deep South of China. Here the border is very porous and the minorities travel largely as they please. Their relationship with the CCP is an unusual one. They play the role of the "happy dancing minorities" for the government and numerous tourists, but still live their private lives, largely unaffected by big government. They could be described as wearing a mask when the big brother is in town, but as soon as he turns his back, they let loose. This had led them to preserve much of their identity and culture, albeit it secretly.
Finally in section four, Eimer travels to the remote and cold North of China along the border with N. Korea. His discussion of the 'third Korea' and China's fears are unparalleled and alone make the book a worthy read, especially for any student of international policy in the region. His justifications for China's support of N. Korea are unique and shine new light on an unconsidered reason for China's motivations.
It is worth noting that Eimer only intended to get the often censored minority viewpoint present in this book. He makes no effort to challenge their challenges to the central government, and one is left angry at the 'bully' CCP. While these may be justified feelings, one should always strive to see the other side, and while this book presents the complexity of minority issues wonderfully, it does little to defend the CCP's actions. Therefore, I believe one should strive to understand the CCP's motivations after reading this book.
5/5 - read immediately
Unlike any other book that I’ve encountered about China, it focuses on the ‘uncooked’ groups living on the ‘edges’ of the Han empire. The Uighur, Tibetans, Koreans, Mongolians and the various Yunnan tribes including the wild Wa- who have made their own country in the Shan States of Burma (Myanmar) based on drug exports.
A chance encounter with the author inspired me to read the book- and it was well worth it. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Cat’s Cradle, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”