The gripping true story of the intrepid curators who saved China’s finest art from the ravages of the Sino-Japanese War and World War II. Spring 1933. The silent courtyards and palaces of Peking’s Forbidden City are tense with fear and expectation.
Japan’s aircraft drone overhead; its troops and tanks are only hours away. All-out war between China and Japan is coming, and the curators of the Forbidden City are faced with an impossible question: how will they protect the vast imperial art collections in their charge? The magnificent collections contain a million pieces of art – objects that carry China’s deepest and most ancient memories. Among them are irreplaceable artefacts: exquisite paintings on silk, vanishingly rare Ming porcelain and the extraordinary Stone Drums of Qin, which are adorned with 2,500-year-old inscriptions of crucial cultural significance.
For sixteen terrifying years, under the quiet leadership of museum director Ma Heng, the curators would go on to transport the imperial art collections thousands of miles across China – up rivers of white water, across mountain ranges and through burning cities. In their search for safety the curators and their fragile, invaluable cargo journeyed through the maelstrom of violence, chaos and starvation that was China’s Second World War. Told for the first time in English and playing out across a vast historical canvas, this is the exhilarating story of a small group of men and women who, when faced with war’s onslaught on civilisation, chose to resist.