Two epic journeys along the Silk Road, past and present, offer a riveting and cautionary tale about the breathtaking rise of China.
On July 6, 1906, Baron Gustaf Mannerheim boarded the midnight train from St. Petersburg, charged by Czar Nicholas II to secretly collect intelligence on the Qing Dynasty's sweeping reforms that were radically transforming China. The last czarist agent in the so-called Great Game, Mannerheim, who would receive the name Horse that Leaps Through Clouds from the Chinese people he encountered, chronicled almost every facet of China's modernization, from education reform and foreign investment to Tibet's struggle for independence.
On July 6, 2006, writer Eric Enno Tamm boards that same train, intent on following in Mannerheim's footsteps. Initially banned from China, Tamm devises a cover and retraces Mannerheim's route across the Silk Road, discovering both eerie similarities and seismic differences between the Middle Kingdoms of today and a century ago.
Along the way, Tamm offers piercing insights into China's past that raise troubling questions about its future. Can the Communist Party truly open China to the outside world yet keep Western ideas such as democracy and freedom at bay, just as Qing officials mistakenly believed? What can reform during the late Qing Dynasty teach us about the spectacular transformation of China today? "Study the past if you would divine the future," wrote Confucius. Tamm's quest, told in The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds, turns out to be a cautionary tale.