The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China by David Eimer

Thousands of miles from Beijing, China reveals itself as far from homogenous: The Independent

From the very first days of republican China in 1911 there has been an official ambivalence towards the non-Han inhabitants of this multi-ethnic empire. The early racial rhetoric of the first president of China, Sun Yat-sen, marginalised them. Yet the nationalists were terrified of the new China breaking apart and were desperate to keep hold of the territories where these “non-Chinese” minorities lived. The Communists who took power in the 1950s adopted the same logically fuzzy strategy.

David Eimer’s book The Emperor Far Away is an engaging journal of his travels through some of these liminal lands. There’s some lovely writing. A Hui Muslim travelling companion in Xinjiang seems to bring Eimer nothing but bad luck. A description of a boozy Nangma night club subverts the stereotype of the placid and spiritual Tibetans. Eimer, a former writer for the Telegraph titles and the South China Morning Post, has a pleasing turn of phrase. “A Tibetan pit toilet”, he remarks, “can induce constipation in someone suffering from dysentery.”

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