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Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,097 ratings  ·  108 reviews
The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it travelled precious cargoes of silk, gold and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centres of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left and finally its towns vani ...more
Paperback, First paperback edition, 252 pages
Published January 30th 1984 by University of Massachusetts Press (first published May 22nd 1980)
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Start your review of Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia
Written in 1980, this is the first of Hopkirk's Central Asia books - albeit more focused on Chinese Turkestan, or what is now China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region. From what I understand this one is probably the one least involved in the Great Game, but more the precursor to it.

Here Hopkirk chronicles the Europeans (archeologists and explorers) who unearthed the ancient cities of the Silk Road, removing the artifacts and manuscripts, much to the later chagrin of the Chinese. It is a contentious to
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Murder! That was the diagnosis of Albert Von Le Coq, famed German archaeologist, upon discovering the remains of a Buddhist monk wrapped in blood-stained robes. And this unfortunate monk wasn't alone, as a nearby room housed over a hundred of his friends; stacked like cord-wood and bearing horrifying wounds. The ancient west-Chinese site of Karakhoja had played host to a slaughter... but who were the killers and why did they do it? Was it a government power-play? Religious persecution? Perhaps a ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: central-asia
This is a good short work on the history of archaeology around the vast desert in far western China. It inspired me to travel in Xinjiang, Gansu and Tibet, areas I will never regret visiting. The main links in the region were intercontinental trade, Han dynasty military outposts and Buddhist pilgrimage routes to India. The author Peter Hopkirk was a journalist and popular historian of the British and Russian empires, and the 19th century exploration of Central Asia. This round of the Great Game ...more
Brian Griffith
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Hopkirk conducts a grand old exploration of ancient West China and the Silk Road. He gives a dramatic history of the old kingdoms and the slow decline of their environment, along with tales of the first modern Western explorers there. At present, he explains, the old Silk Road from Hami to Kashgar is dotted with abandoned towns. During the 600s CE the kingdom of Kucha reportedly stretched nearly 400 miles down this northern arm of the Silk Road, skirting the growing Taklamakan Desert. The oases ...more
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Foreign Devils on the Silk Road tells the story of several archaeologists (Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Klementz, von Le Coq and Langdon Warner to name a few) who travelled across the barren lands of the Taklamakan desert in the early 20th Century, on a quest to search for remains of Asian ancient civilizations.
To say "search for remains" might be a bit of a euphemism; because what these people did was plain pillaging. They took away whatever stuccos, paintings, figurines, scrolls and other stuff
Gerald Sinstadt
Jan 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Peter Hopkirk's books on central Asia have two virtues that are not often found together: they are learned, thoroughly researched works that wrap their scholarship in anecdote and conflict. Foreign Devils takes the author in the steps of a handful of sturdy explorers and antiquarians who, between about 1890 and 1940, ventured into the Taklamakan, Lop Nor and Gobi deserts in search of evidence of the civilisations which once flourished there and are now buried beneath the sand.

Literally thousand
May 27, 2018 marked it as to-read
Shelves: e-books, archeology
TR Foreign Devils on the Sil Road
TR The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
TR Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Hopkirk's book focuses primarily on the men who travelled the Silk Road in search of ancient treasures. Clearly I was born the wrong sex, in the wrong time; while a lot of these men may be considered treasure-hunting rogues, many of them were highly intelligent, gifted, and brave to have completed these expeditions and excavations, and they have my awe and respect. Their stories and rivalries were very interesting to read.

The other theme of the book touches on the status of these lost treasures.
Yigal Zur
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
great tale of the silk road.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, until the 1920s, several European and American explorers searched western China for artifacts associated with the silk road, which was a collection of trails connecting China with the Middle East and India. The significance of this area is that it preserved writing and artifacts of a variety of religions, principally Buddhism but also Nestorian Christians and Manicheasm, whose early history has not survived elsewhere.

The area they searched
Pei-jean Lu
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of the rediscovery of the most famous overland route in history can be tied to the many European Explorers who traversed the desolate Takalmarkan desert to find the lost cities along the route. However, these discoveries are also clouded in controversy due to the removal of these relics and manuscripts from the region.
Interesting and insightful this book doesn’t attempt to sway your opinion on the subject of stolen relics and whether or not it was the right thing to do, but rather tel
Jim Coughenour
I spent the best part of a foggy San Francisco Sunday in the lost cities of the Taklamakan desert, one hundred years ago in the company of foreign devils – European explorers and archeologists who robbed (or rescued, depending on your point of view) the art of ancient Silk Road. Hopkirk's book was published in 1980, so undoubtedly the history is a bit out of date, but it was a great adventure. I'm looking forward to his other books.
Gumble's Yard
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
Diverting account of various European explorers/archaeologists who explored (or as far as the Chinese are concerned) raided the deserts of Central Asia for artefacts from various oasis based lost cities/trading posts dotted along the Silk Road (which started at Xian) dating from when an outward looking Chinese empire traded with the West and India, but which later became covered in sand as the irrigation systems which created the oases were left to decay.
Another excellent Hopkirk book, but not my favorite. While a collection of his usual great stories about a great cast of adventurers and explorers, it lacks the geopolitical underpinnings of the other books in this remarkable series. Still there's no such thing as "bad Hopkirk;" it's just that some is better than others, (my old roommate used to say the same thing about sex, haha). ...more
Mariana Budjeryn
Aug 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
A delightful Indiana Jones like account of the exploration of the Taklamakan desert in what is now the Xinjiang province of Eastern China. This was - and probably still is - truly the last frontier!
Christopher Donaghue
This is one hell of a book. The adventures described herein are mind-bogglingly awe-inspiring, while the savagery is heart-breaking.

The beginning of the book gives a very odd perspective which is not duplicated in the body of the text; that is, I was expecting a mildly moralistic tale against the deprivations and thievery of the "foreign devils" - the Europeans and, in the case of Langdon Warner, American - who saved the archaeological heritage of the Silk Road. The Chinese consider these peopl
Mar 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard for me to describe HOW much I liked this book. First off, Hopkirk's work is fantastic. He covers a lot of ground but manages to keep it light. Taking into account the number of discoveries and cultures involved in the Silk Road, it's a great achievement to tell the story without getting tangled in it. His journalistic expertise clearly shines here.

The book covers the different archeological expeditions that uncovered some of the biggest archeological discoveries since the Tutankamon's
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Foreign Devils on the Silk Road
by Peter Hopkirk

Other then in the time when Peter Hopkirk wrote his book, the region and places he mentions in his book are open for visitors. So within two months from now I hope to join footsteps with Sven Hedin, Aurel Stein, von Albert Le Coq, Theodor Bartus, Paul Pelliot, Langdon Warner and the Japanese count Kozui Otani and see the Silk road sites and oases for myself and discover the Chinese regions that are now called Sinkiang and Kansu.

The Silk Road, whi
Aleksandar Sarkic
Foreign devils on the silk road is one of the most interesting books i have read in recent time, if you are interested in history of central asia especially region around taklamakan desert and it's lost cities and secrets this book is for you. Peter Hopkirk really good decipts it, first great informations about ancient history of this region, the people who passed and lived there like Yuezhi and Tocharians, later the connections between ancient Chinese empire and the West. This region is so impo ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting account of how (mostly) European travellers and explorers plundered the relics of the Chinese Turkestan.
The story is engaging and contains parts of adventure and bits of cultural explanation behind every discovery. The structure is pretty simple, as every chapter(s) is devoted to a particular expedition of a explorer/looter.
Personally I miss a deeper account on the Russian side (if Langdon Warner deserved a chapter, I´m pretty sure Prejevalsky -or others-deserved one too), also on th
Timandra Whitecastle
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This non-fiction account reads like an Indiana Jones novel, only there‘s considerably less Nazi-punching and whip-cracking involved. Also picture several Indy‘s of various nationalities all yelling: IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM! at each other.

I read this alongside the rather dry, but still excellently researched non-fiction book the Silk Road by Valerie Hansen, and they both compliment each other quite well.

Hansen gives you the history and research on what we now call the Silk Road, and Hopkirk give
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like all of Hopkirks books, this one is embued with rigourous background research and chock full of adventure and gripping stories. I absolutely love his style, a mixture of ripping yarn and high adventure. He does however, attempt to put the record straight as regards the despoiliation of ancient sites and the outright theft of antiquities. He also presents the reader with the conundrum that is one of, leave the stuff to rot and ruin or cart it off to foreign museum collections. This is the sto ...more
Jez Keighley
Dec 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mike Hanford
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very approachable book for a reader interested in the adventure without the dusty archeological footnotes. Fascinating story, as the late 19th century European culture unearths high civilization in, truly, the middle of nowhere! The notion of the richness of the cities, settlements, and military outposts set in a land totally unknown to contemporary readers will delight anyone who pursues this tale!
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebchoice
I read this book as I’m fortunate to be visiting the central Asian Silk Road region next year. I knew nothing about the history of the region and was fascinated to read how these intrepid archaeologists from various countries discovered buried oasis towns, statues, artefacts and fantastic manuscripts enabling history to be pieced together. Despite being written a number of years ago, it’s worth reading this book to get a potted history of the Silk Road.
John Paige
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Peter Hopkirk is a consummate master of conveying the contemporary foreign events of Turkistan. His exhaustive knowledge and research are conveyed in an evocative style, which entraps the reader in this remarkable story of deceit and intrigue. Whilst the book was written some 40 years ago the fascinating story remains important today and has inspired me to travel to view some of the artefacts on display in Europe and around the world. Reading the book is a moving and entrancing experience.
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Nice little book with a sad note to end on:
"Monasteries and caravanserais have given way to communes and tractor plants... A new road carries motor traffic over the Karakoram... Very occasionally from the heart of Marco Polo's demon-infested Desert of Lop is heard the distant thunder of a nuclear test... Aircraft and Satellites flush out remaining secrets of the Taklamakan... The last shred of mystery and romance had finally gone from the Silk Road".
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china-love
Love this explorer chase to the edge of the Gobi Desert—why has no one made a movie of this yet? I admit, I came to the book with some negative views of Aurel Stein, just because he took some thousands of books from China and sent them to England. But now I see him more in the context of his time, and damn what a badass guy committed to adventure.

I learned a lot!
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
A dense and scholarly read that nevertheless brought to life the characters responsible for first enlightening the West about the art treasures of the Silk Road in central Asia. The book makes one think about archeology and who ancient treasures "belong" to, as well as where they should be housed once unearthed. ...more
Dipra Lahiri
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Intrepid travelers from Sweden, Germany, France, Japan and America scour the vast desert lands of Central Asia for century old treasures and antiquities of the famous Silk Road. Gripping stories, intriguing cast of characters.
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Peter Hopkirk was born in Nottingham, the son of Frank Stewart Hopkirk, a prison chaplain, and Mary Perkins. He grew up at Danbury, Essex, notable for the historic palace of the Bishop of Rochester. Hopkirk was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford. The family hailed originally from the borders of Scotland in Roxburghshire where there was a rich history of barbaric raids and reivers hanging just ...more

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