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The Diplomat of Kashgar: The Life of Sir George Macartney 18 January 1867-19 May 1945 Paperback – 20 Nov 2014
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A tale of intrigue and suspense, hardship and homesickness, geopolitics and high policy....The story of another age ... that still has relevance today. Macartney's character shines through this book. James McCarthy has performed a great service by bringing to light the remarkable achievements of this quiet, humble and highly effective exemplar of a style of diplomacy we neglect at our peril. The region of Xinjiang, where Kashgar is the second city, sits at the heart of one of the least stable parts of the globe, bordering Russia, the Central Asian republics, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Pakistan. It has been a disputed territory for centuries, finally incorporated into China only in the 18th century. ... If, as many believe, this is to be China's century, then Macartney's old stomping ground will have an important part to play. This book, and the history it helps bring to mind, is thus a useful source of knowledge and insight into a region we can expect to hear about a lot more. --From the Foreword by Graham Leicester, HM Diplomatic Service, 1984-1995.
About the Author
The Author, James McCarthy was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1936, graduated from Aberdeen University in 1959 and now lives in Edinburgh. He saw military service with the Royal Marines, Black Watch and King's African Rifles during the Mau Mau campaign in Kenya. Subsequently he became the first European post-graduate student at Makerere College, Kampala and carried out forest exploration in Uganda and Tanzania, latterly introducing the first course in forest ecology for African forest rangers. He has been the holder of a Leverhulme Scholarship, a Churchill Fellowship and a Nuffield-Leverhulme Fellowship. He has travelled widely in Europe, North America, Africa and Australia. He retired as Deputy Director (Scotland) from the Nature Conservancy Council in 1991 and became a Board Member of the new organisation, Scottish Natural Heritage. His consultancy work has included advising the Icelandic Government on interpretation for visitors to their first National Park and the US National Park Service on coastal conservation. He has published books on the natural heritage and land use of Scotland and latterly biographies of 18th and 19th Century Scottish explorers and travellers, in whom he has a special interest. He is currently chairman of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. He is married, with three grown-up children.
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Born in China in 1867, his father was a Scottish ex-army doctor who had settled there and married the widow of one of the leaders of the Taiping Rebellion. Half Chinese and half British, the young Macartney never quite fitted into mainstream British society, but his upbringing and linguistic skills gave him unique qualifications for navigating the complexities of Kashgar's intrigues.
The book focuses, in particular, on the diplomatic competition between Macartney and his Russian counterpart Petrovsky. As is so often the case, the British appeared to hold the weaker hand. Macartney had no staff, no wife for the first eight years, a tiny consulate, and only two Indian soldiers as guards. Support from his superiors in London and India was sporadic and often half-hearted. Meanwhile, Petrovsky had fifty Cossacks, a highly developed intelligence network, and a lavish budget for entertaining. The Russian border, from which he could call military reinforcements if needed, was only a few miles away.
But despite constraints that would have overwhelmed a lesser man, Macartney worked tirelessly to develop good relationships with local Chinese officials, the many Indian traders who were under his protection, and the few other foreigners who lived or travelled locally. From an early age, he understood the subtleties of Chinese life, both official and unofficial, in a way that Petrovsky - who could not even speak the language - could not. Over time, he gained the respect of almost everyone, and was able, most of the time, to defend Britain's interests through quiet, old-fashioned diplomacy.
This is also a book with a modern resonance. Xinjiang remains a sensitive part of the world, not just because of ongoing ethnic tensions between the local Uyghurs and the Han Chinese, but also given its proximity to Afghanistan. There is no British consulate there now - as a Foreword from a modern diplomat points out, the area is covered from Beijing. This may be easier than in Macartney's days, but he may have had a better understanding of what was happening on the ground than his modern counterparts who drop in occasionally by air.
The author James McCarthy - who has already published 12 other books on a wide variety of subjects and who (full disclosure !) is known to this reviewer - has woven this tale from a number of sources. His main ones are, for the diplomatic content, an earlier biography of Macartney by his successor at Kashgar, and for the personal and domestic insights, an account published by Macartney's wife, Catherine. Her voice is a useful foil to the tales of diplomatic intrigue, and softens what might otherwise be a rather dry account. McCarthy adds to this mix many other fascinating details from his own research. It has been well edited and produced by McCarthy's Hong Kong publishers, who also awarded it their annual Proverse Prize. The end result is a well informed and very readable volume that can act as a good introduction to the region and its history.