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Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River Between Russia and China (Paperback)
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Black Dragon River is a personal journey down one of Asia’s great rivers that reveals the region’s essential history and culture. The world’s ninth largest river, the Amur serves as a large part of the border between Russia and China. As a crossroads for the great empires of Asia, this area offers journalist Dominic Ziegler a lens with which to examine the societies at Europe's only borderland with east Asia. He follows a journey from the river's top to bottom, and weaves the history, ecology and peoples to show a region obsessed with the past—and to show how this region holds a key to the complex and critical relationship between Russia and China today.
One of Asia’s mightiest rivers, the Amur is also the most elusive. The terrain it crosses is legendarily difficult to traverse. Near the river’s source, Ziegler travels on horseback from the Mongolian steppe into the taiga, and later he is forced by the river’s impassability to take the Trans-Siberian Railway through the four-hundred-mile valley of water meadows inland. As he voyages deeper into the Amur wilderness, Ziegler also journeys into the history of the peoples and cultures the river’s path has transformed.
The known history of the river begins with Genghis Khan and the rise of the Mongolian empire a millennium ago, and the story of the region has been one of aggression and conquest ever since. The modern history of the river is the story of Russia's push across the Eurasian landmass to China. For China, the Amur is a symbol of national humiliation and Western imperial land seizure; to Russia it is a symbol of national regeneration, its New World dreams and eastern prospects. The quest to take the Amur was to be Russia’s route to greatness, replacing an oppressive European identity with a vibrant one that faced the Pacific. Russia launched a grab in 1854 and took from China a chunk of territory equal in size nearly to France and Germany combined. Later, the region was the site for atrocities meted out on the Russian far east in the twentieth century during the Russian civil war and under Stalin.
The long shared history on the Amur has conditioned the way China and Russia behave toward each other—and toward the outside world. To understand Putin’s imperial dreams, we must comprehend Russia’s relationship to its far east and how it still shapes the Russian mind. Not only is the Amur a key to Putinism, its history is also embedded in an ongoing clash of empires with the West.
About the Author
Dominic Ziegler is The Economist's Asia editor. He was the founding author of “Banyan,” The Economist’s weekly column on Asian affairs. He has previously served as the magazine’s Tokyo bureau chief and as its Greater China correspondent. In that role, he opened The Economist’s first mainland bureau in Beijing in 1994. He has been with the magazine since 1986.
“In his ambitious Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River at the Borderland of Empires, Dominic Ziegler makes the powerful case that this Asian Russia has been wrongly overshadowed by the country’s much smaller European component... As the book’s subtitle indicates, Mr. Ziegler uses one of the world’s great rivers as a vehicle to pursue this story—and what a vehicle it is. ...[He] writes beautifully, and with the fervor of a naturalist.” - The Wall Street Journal
“[Black Dragon River] is almost as sprawling as its title… [It] presents Ziegler as both an amiable traveling companion and formidably erudite professor, serving up well-spiced anthropology…In this overexamined world, it's nice to know there are outer reaches that we can discover afresh.” – NPR.org
“Strong in terms of background, authority and seamlessness of prose” – The New York Times Book Review
“The writing is superb…a true labour of love, Black Dragon River is a triumph.” – The Spectator
“Highly rewarding for those with a sense of adventure…Ziegler’s writing [leaps] and sparkles in all directions like the salmon, fireflies and other Siberian fauna he delights in describing. As he travels, Ziegler stirs up an enthralling mix of…travelogue, history and anthropology.” – The Telegraph
“In this absorbing travelogue and history, Economist editor Ziegler ranges along the 2,826-mile Amur river from its Mongolian headwaters to its Pacific mouth on what proves to be a grand adventure… Ziegler happily loses himself in the twisting tributaries of the river and its lore and weaves in gorgeous evocations of the landscape and piquant reportage on the odd and vibrant characters who people it. This is a fascinating portrait of the Amur and its enduring appeal as a symbol of Russia’s tarnished present.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“[Ziegler] weaves the colorful history of the region into his travel narrative along the Amur… an area that is particularly fascinating because of its location between the empires of Russia and China and its development and history being shaped by tsars, Soviets, and the Ming and Qing dynasties, to name but a few. Readers curious about the history of Sino-Russian relations and Russia’s Eastward expansion will find this account of particular interest.”—Library Journal
“[Ziegler’s] journey, which he made by horse, Jeep, and train, took him through difficult yet unforgettable landscapes and brought him into contact with a host of intriguing individuals. [He] is exceptionally knowledgeable about the Amur region and its relationship to the current tensions that define the China-Russia relationship…Rich in history” – Kirkus Reviews
“A superb book that marvellously melds high-class travel writing on one of the world’s least known regions with fascinating history of explorers, emperors, freebooters, revolutionaries and larger-than-life characters - all in a landscape that begs to be explored by traveller as intrepid and determined as Ziegler.”—Jonathan Fenby, author of The Penguin History of Modern China
“If you think you understand the modern world, think again. Dominic Ziegler takes us on a magical journey to an extraordinary part of the globe - a river that snakes through history and possibly all our futures. It is a story of cruelty, mystery, beauty and wilderness that leaves you smiling at your previous ignorance.”—John Micklethwait, co-author of The Fourth Revolution
"A superb book that marvellously melds high-class travel writing on one of the world's least known regions with fascinating history of explorers, emperors, freebooters, revolutionaries and larger-than-life characters - all in a landscape that begs to be explored by traveller as intrepid and determined as Ziegler."
—Jonathan Fenby, author of The Penguin History of Modern China
"If you think you understand the modern world, think again. Dominic Ziegler takes us on a magical journey to an extraordinary part of the globe - a river that snakes through history and possibly all our futures. It is a story of cruelty, mystery, beauty and wilderness that leaves you smiling at your previous ignorance."
—John Micklethwait, co-author of The Fourth Revolution
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