The Silk Road is the name given to the oldest and greatest of all trade routes, the route linking China with imperial Rome. This route went through the bleak and forbidding terrain of far Western China, skirting the Taklamakan desert. Over the centuries, the trade on the Silk Road vanished and many of the towns along the way disappeared.
Then, in the early years of the 20th century, bold explorers, mostly from Europe, began to visit these ancient sites in Western China, risking their lives and taking home ancient art treasures that were found in isolated caves and buried beneath desert sands.
These art treasures can now be found in art museums in Europe, Russia, the U.S. and India – much to the chagrin of Chinese scholars.
Peter Hopkirk tells this story, a story which, at times, is fascinating.