25 April 2007

Aurel Stein on the Silk Road

I stumbled on this nice little biography a few days ago, Aurel Stein on the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield and I loved it. Whitfield also wrote the excellent Life Along the Silk Road. Whitfield is well-versed in anything to do with the Silk Road and she writes and engaging and short biography of Aurel Stein, one of the most significant explorers and archaeologists of the Silk Road. She includes his expeditions to Iran also instead of only discussing his trips to China.

There is no hand-wringing over "foreign devils." Whitfield simply states what Stein did without any criticism or justification. And it's hard to completely condemn these European explorers in Asia and Africa. Unquestionably many treasures were saved because of their efforts, although many were also destroyed because they tried to take things that were too fragile to be moved, or because they were only looking for what they thought was valuable. But the Qing government in the early 1900s at the end of their empire and the new Republic of China after 1911 were in no position to care for these artifacts. There really was no good solution at the time.

The book is only 130 pages long and quick to read, especially since there are so many pictures. Whitfield writes as well in this book as she did in Life Along the Silk Road. Highly recommended, even for those who aren't fanatic about Central Asia. It's too bad it has a nasty review on Amazon. I think Whitfield is an excellent writer.

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