Black Dragon River: A Journey down the Amur River at the Borderlands of Empires, with Dominic Ziegler, Asia editor of The Economist


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Dominic will lead us on a guided journey down one of Asia’s greatest rivers. The Amur is the world’s ninth-longest river—and the longest most people have never heard of. Though little known, it has often been at the crossroads of the great empires of Asia, and now forms much of the uneasy border between Russia and China, a vast region peopled largely by nomadic tribes.The Amur is largely why Russia is in Asia at all. It holds a key to the complex and critical relationship between these two empires today...

But this is no dry history. It's intrepid stuff: Dominic meets a ragtag of soldiers, drunks and gold-toothed babushkas. After a stunt that involves lobbing rocks over the walls of Nerchinsk prison, Ziegler ends up handcuffed and behind bars, being investigated by the FSB and urged to flee the town's mafia.

The journey starts neither in Russia nor in China, but in Mongolia, with a horse ride deep into the taiga. And it ends with a 400-mile ride on a Soviet hydrofoil, snaking through a flaming autumn wilderness to the forgotten town at the mouth of the Amur that once was the site of Russia’s great Pacific hopes. A winter storm descends, and the final days of the journey involve being holed up in the town with the Russian air force crew of a MiG helicopter in a blizzard of ice and vodka as, outside, the Amur river begins to freeze over.

In between, is the fascinating story of emperors, freebooters, revolutionaries and fantasists, all playing out their lives against the wild and stunning natural backdrop of this extraordinary river.


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Dominic Ziegler

Dominic joined The Economist in 1986 as a financial reporter. He went on to become Finance Editor, then Washington Correspondent from 1991-94. He was the newspaper’s China Correspondent from 1994-2000, based first in Hong Kong and then Beijing. He went back to London as Finance and Economics Editor in 2001. In 2004 he returned to the United States as an acting Washington Correspondent, and after that stood in for half a year as editor of the Books and Arts section, before serving as Deputy Editor of Intelligent Life, an Economist publication. Dominic was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2005-09 and then founding author of The Economist‘s Banyan column on Asian affairs, before returning to London in late 2010 to take up the position of Asia Editor.




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The Spectator: ‘A true labour of love, Black Dragon River is a triumph.’ see full review

2016Martin Keeley