A train full of wealthy passengers, both foreign and Chinese, is wending its way across the country to Peking. But after being taken hostage by bandits, their plight goes from bad to worse as geopolitics rear their head too.
In the summer of 1923, Chinese bandits robbed a luxurious train and took over 300 of its passengers hostage, including many foreign citizens. As the situation became worse and the consequences mounted, it became an international crisis that eventually struck a blow against the stability of the Chinese government. However, having become overshadowed by other events during this turbulent time in Chinese history, there isn’t a lot of English language material out there about it.
The author does a good job of balancing the political and personal sides of the story, allowing us to see how the hostage drama comprises only the innermost circle of the crisis. There’s a lot of context needed to understand how the situation ended up so convoluted, and we get that in spades. I came away feeling like I’d learned a lot about early twentieth-century China in the microcosm of this book.
However, I did feel like the writing got dry or repetitive on occasion, which made the hostages’ predicament feel less impactful sometimes. I also really wished that we learned more about the predicament of the Chinese hostages or the mountaintop children – while their stories are referenced, it’s mostly in relation to the foreign hostages. Maybe their stories were skated over because there were less resources available about them or because it would have been beyond the scope of the story the author was trying to tell, but either way I definitely felt the omission.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.