Forgotten Kingdom by Peter Goullart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas in Yunnan Province lies the capital city of the almost forgotten Nakhi Kingdom, Likiang. This city was the home of the Nakhi, one of 56 ethnic groups now officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. These people were thought to have originated in northwestern China and migrated south to this region. Along with the Tibetans they traded with India and Lhasa over the Tea and Horse Caravan routes. This part of China was almost unknown until the American botanist Joseph Rock and the Russian traveller and writer Peter Goullart bought the region to the attention of the world.
Goullart was Russian by birth and grew up in Moscow and Paris. He fled from Russia after the revolution and as the Far East was a fascinating place ended up in China where he learnt the language as a tour guide. After Japan invaded in 1939 he managed to secure an appointment as a Chinese Industrial Cooperatives representative and got posted to the city of Likiang (often spelt Lijiang). He was to spend the next eight years there immersed in the customs and daily lives of the people.
This book tells of his period spent there, his calm judgements and thoughtful dealing with the locals meant that he was easily accepted into the complex society and was to make many friends there. Being close to India and Tibet, it was a crossroads of cultures and trade routes so the locals had managed to absorb a smorgasbord of beliefs from Confucianism and Buddhism to Shamanism along with Animism and Taoism. Even life was fairly tough then, it didn't stop the people enjoying themselves and Goullart recounts many a time spent in the bars and socialising with the locals drinking the yintsieu wine. The setting up of co-operatives meant that he had to travel in the region, this meant that he had several precarious journeys alongside the rivers and canyons as he moved across the mountains.
It is an utterly fascinating account of a virtually unknown part of China long absorbed into the Communist bloc. In 1949 he had to rush to leave the place as the party began to appear in the local area with the local bullies finding positions of power in the new regime. He is an eloquent writer, uncovering the details that make the stories that he tells so compelling to read. He has a genuine warmth towards the people that he was initially responsible for, helping with medicines and is generous with his time and money to those that he came into contact with. There are amazing pictures of the people he knew in the town, and overall a superb book.
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Yunnan is one of my favourite parts of the world - I spent quite some time there travelling with Chinese friends who lived there. Thanks for this review - I had not heard of this book and shall definitely seek it out.ReplyDelete
I have been to China a few times, but most around Hong Kong, Shenzhen and the Pearl Delta and Ningbo and Shanghai. My wife has been to Nepal which from what she said has some similarities to this area. Eland do some really good books, I have another publisher profile with them at the end of the monthReplyDelete
I loved Lijiang, as it is now spelled, and my guide there was a Naxi woman who told me some of her history. This sounds like a fascinating window on a lost culture, though Lijiang itself retains much of its traditional feel. Thanks for finding and reviewing it!ReplyDelete
It was well worth reading MaryReplyDelete
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