John Keay

Smoke Without Fire

The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World, 1100 BC to the Present


Bloomsbury 512pp £25 order from our bookshop

With China supposedly poised to take over the world, it is worth recalling what happened at a couple of history’s other ‘China moments’. In AD 648, when the Tang empire was at its zenith, a Chinese diplomatic mission crossed the Himalayas into Bengal and was there robbed and incarcerated. The attack may have been motivated by religion: although China was overwhelmingly Buddhist at the time, in North India Buddhism was under threat from a Brahminical revival. The Chinese knew this. A stream of Chinese pilgrims to Buddhism’s Indian ‘Holy Land’ reported on the worsening situation, and the 648 mission may have been sent to protest about it.

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