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  Journeys on the Silk Road  

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Reviews and interviews about Journeys on the Silk Road appear here, as do articles by the authors that touch on themes in the book.

The Extraordinary Discovery Of The World's Oldest Book

Huffington Post article by Joyce Morgan By Joyce Morgan
Huffington Post
12 September 2012

Ask people to name the world's oldest printed book and the common reply is Gutenberg's Bible. Few venture that the answer is a revered Buddhist text called the Diamond Sutra, printed in 868 A.D.
Or that by the time Gutenberg got ink on his fingers nearly 600 years later — and his revolutionary technology helped usher in the Enlightenment — this copy of the Diamond Sutra had been hidden for several centuries in a sacred cave on the edge of the Gobi Desert and would remain there for several more.
Read full article: Huffington Post website

Editor's Choice - Media Review

Mandala magazine review By Laura Miller
Mandala magazine
October 2012

Morgan and Walters' book becomes a page-turner as the journalist-authors' unfold the story of Aurel Stein as a real-life Indiana Jones. Stein, who took detailed notes on his expeditions, provides the book's colorful and fascinating details of his months-long and often grueling travels along ancient trade routes.
Stein's 1906-1908 expedition through Turkestan is the focus of Journeys on the Silk Road. On it, Stein traveled to Dunhuang, China, and visited the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas where he had heard that a huge cache of old scrolls had recently been discovered. This cache turned out to be a remarkable collection of more than 40,000 ancient texts — a major archeological find that is actively being studied by scholars today.
Read full review: Mandala website

Books in Brief, Fall 2012

Tricycle magazine review By Emma Varvaloucas
Tricycle magazine
11 August 2012

"What would it have been like if Indiana Jones had gone on a Buddhist adventure? Journeys on the Silk Road, from Australian journalists Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters, gives us an idea...
"It's certainly a story worth Steven Spielberg's attention (and moreover, it's historically true), but in reality [explorer Aurel] Stein resembles the monks whose paths he devotedly followed more than he does any dashing Harrison Ford character... Still, Journeys on the Silk Road is written with such color that the expansive history covered in the book, from early European Buddhist scholarship to debates over modern-day translations of the Diamond Sutra, is as exciting as a trip to the movies."
Read full review: Tricycle website

Nonfiction review: Journeys on the Silk Road

Publishers Weekly review By Publishers Weekly
6 August 2012

"Morgan and Walters's narrative is a captivating biography of the intrepid [Aurel] Stein, an intriguing history of the Sutra and the political and social upheavals that surrounded it, and an enthralling travelogue in its own right...
"Both experienced journalists, the authors do an impeccable job of bringing readers into the action and situating the story in a broader--though no less riveting--historical context."
Read full review: Publishers Weekly website

The Stein Collection and World War II

British MuseumBy Joyce Morgan
The British Museum
29 March 2012

After Aurel Stein brought the Diamond Sutra of 868 AD to London, it seemed as if the world's oldest printed book had found a secure home where scholars could assess its importance and insure its presevation.
But the turmoil of World War II meant that potentially nothing in all of London was safe. Find out what happened to the Diamond Sutra and Aurel Stein's other treasures during the war years, in Joyce Morgan's paper for the British Museum.
See full article: PDF document

Page Turners, Joyce Morgan

Courier Mail video By Fran Metcalf and Shona Cox
Brisbane Courier Mail
13 August 2011

Joyce Morgan: "Aurel Stein was a Hungarian-born man, born in Budapest. He was a scholar and explorer... He ended up taking a job in India ... and that allowed him to pursue his interest in both Indian history and to go out and explore, because it was a great time of discovery — the late 19th century.
"We thought there was just a ripping adventure in how he had actually got to this part of the world and how he got back to Britain. It meant he was having to travel through incredibly difficult terrain. Sometimes it was down to -44 [degrees] in the desert and his mustache would freeze in his sleep. At other times, it was so hot working in the desert, he could only ever travel at night...
"[Plus] there was this incredible discovery of this world's oldest printed book... And the more I knew, the more fascinated I was, and I thought it also allowed us to talk something about the Silk Road, this great trade route that was, in some ways, like the original information superhighway."
Watch interview: 7-minute video

Review Journeys on the Silk Road

Good Reading magazine review By Walter Mason
Good Reading magazine
August 2011

Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters have brilliantly combined the genres of literary thriller, travel adventure and popular history in this original book, leaving the reader more informed about Central Asia, its history and culture.
Following the adventures of explorer and misfit Aurel Stein along the Silk Road into China, we are soon lost in an ever-so-romantic world of corrupt abbots, multilingual manipulators, camels and ancient Buddhist temples.
Stein's great passion was retrieving the religious manuscripts that were rumoured to have been housed in the largely empty Dunhuang caves in the westernmost outreach of the Chinese empire. His prize was a copy of the Diamond Sutra, said to be the oldest extant printed book in the world. The special talent of Morgan and Walters is their ability to tantalise us with information and thrill us in a way that a work of history can rarely do.
And you'll be fascinated by the characters who populated Central Asia at the turn of the 20th century — an emaciated Dutch priest, a vain but clever Chinese translator, and best of all, the enigmatic Stein himself, a man who eschewed the company of others and longed always to be out in the desert.
Rarely do we read a book that so cleverly and subtly combines the conventions of so many different types of literature. A rare artefact indeed.
See article: scanned image

Sutra Karma

Newcastle Herald article By Rosemarie Milsom
The Newcastle Herald, Weekend Magazine
30 July 2011

While being shown around the J. Paul Getty Museum's conservation department during a three-week fellowship at the magnificent Los Angeles institution in 2005, arts journalist Joyce Morgan spotted an image on a computer screen.
"There were van Goughs out of their frames and artwork everywhere," she remembers. "We walked past this computer and the guide said to me, 'That's some conservation work we're doing at these Buddhist caves in the Gobi Desert'. That pushed all my buttons."
The intrepid traveller, who enjoys the solitude of deserts and had previously visited exotic and isolated Central Asia, had never heard of the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, a holy site of more than 400 caves hewn out of the granite cliff near Dunhuang in north-west China. Morgan felt compelled to learn more about their discovery, and in 2007 set off to the edge of the Gobi desert to write a feature about their conservation.
See full article: PDF document

On the trail of lost treasure

Phnom Penh Post article By Conrad Walters
Phnom Penh Post, 7 Days
29 July 2011

My kidneys ache as though they have spent six hours in a coffee grinder. Every few minutes, the bus has leapt off the road from Yarkand to Hotan, in China's far-western Xinjiang province. With each crash landing, I feel certain an axle will snap.
And yet, as I rub my back, I find it difficult to complain. I'm following the trail of Aurel Stein, a sturdy Hungarian who traversed this area three times in the early 1900s. He knew hardship. He nearly died of thirst crossing the great Taklamakan Desert.
Stein was an explorer, a scholar and an archaeologist who travelled with a caravan of camels in search of lost civilisations along the ancient Silk Road. With a small team, supplemented by "opium-addled" locals and a fox terrier named Dash, he mined the Taklamakan for clues to how Buddhism morphed as it left its Indian birthplace and meandered across China. He found them, too, largely in documents unearthed from the dunes.
See full article: PDF document

Review: Journeys on the Silk Road

portrait of Mark Rossiter By Mark Rossiter, UTS creative writing lecturer and manuscript appraiser (pictured)
16 July 2011
Launched in the heart of Sydney's winter, Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walter's terrific travel-cum-adventure-cum-detective-story is a great read, all the more because it is set in that fabled land of dunes, sandstorms and oriental mystery that is Central Asia, with its Gobi and Taklamakan deserts. When I read this book ...
...I was expecting something rather academic and even heavyweight, and I admit I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an intriguing read, as light and fluid as fiction. Indeed the opening, with its swirling sandstorm almost obliterating a tired traveller searching for the town he knows must be there, sets the tone for the book, a journey of discovery, rather than a treatise or a formal history book.
See full review: Mark Rossiter website

ABC Local Radio, Conversations with Richard Fidler

ABC portrait of Richard Fidler Presented by Richard Fidler (pictured)
12 July 2011
Richard Fidler: Today you're going to hear the story of a real-life Indiana Jones, a secret library and the world's oldest printed book that was found inside it. My guests are two people who have literally been on the trail of this story, Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters. They're both journalists with The Sydney Morning Herald. They're a married couple. And in their home in Sydney, on the mantelpiece, they keep a little vial of sand. And this sand is from the Taklamakan Desert in outer western China.
And that's where today's story comes from. This desert was one of the most dangerous parts of the Silk Road, a road that was trod by Alexander the Great and served as a trading route between the Roman Empire and China. This is a part of the world with insanely exotic place names: the city Kashgar, the Thieves' Road, the salt lake of Lop Nor and the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.
And it was in these caves a century ago that a Chinese monk found the entrance to a secret library that had been sealed up for more than a thousand years. And in that library he found the Diamond Sutra, an ancient book that has inspired Jack Kerouac and the Dalai Lama. Journeys on the Silk Road is the name of their book. Joyce and Conrad, welcome to you both.
Listen to full interview: ABC Local Radio podcast (50 minutes)

ABC Hobart Radio, Statewide Evenings with Annie Warburton

ABC portrait of Annie Warburton Presented by Annie Warburton (pictured)
12 July 2011
Annie Warburton: Now to the story of the world's oldest printed book. It's a story that takes us back over a thousand years to the fabled Silk Road, the ancient trade route that linked China to the West, and to a cave on the edge of the Gobi Desert, where in 1900 a Chinese monk found a hidden library that had been sealed for nearly a millennium. And which contained countless ancient Buddhist scrolls and texts, including this oldest book, The Diamnd Sutra. It sounds like something that Dan Brown would think up, doesn't it? But it's all true, every word of it. Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters have written Journeys on the Silk Road... I believe you've got a vial of sand from the Taklamakan Desert on your mantelpiece...
Joyce Morgan: That's right. That was the first time we went to the caves on the edge of the desert, which is in the very far west of China, sort of over towards the various 'stans' — Pakistan, Afghanistan. And we went out to see the caves about three of four years ago. And I was just happy to be there. I'd dreamed of going to these places for a long, long time, and so I couldn't help but put a little bit of the sand into a plastic bag to take it home. And it's now one of our most treasured possessions, sitting in a lovely little Chinese glass jar on our mantelpiece,
Listen to full interview: ABC Hobart Radio podcast (20 minutes)

Review: Gripping tale of cultural intrigue

Sydney Morning Herald review by Linda Jaivin By Linda Jaivin
The Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum
9 July 2011

A high-velocity tale of epic adventure, Journeys on the Silk Road transports us back 100 years to central Asia and the company of the eccentric scholar explorer Aurel Stein as he unearths the oldest printed book on Earth from a bricked-up cave in a desert oasis. Stein, a Hungarian-born Englishman, had become obsessed with tracking down ancient Buddhist and other manuscripts he was convinced lay buried under the sands of Turkestan and China's Taklamakan and Gobi deserts.
More than 1000 years earlier, traders and Buddhist pilgrims had travelled between China and countries including Persia and India along routes known collectively as the Silk Road. By the 14th century, the Silk Road had fallen into disuse and surrendered to the sands.
In the early 20th century, China's last dynasty was in decline, Western imperialism was in its heyday and central Asia was hotly contested territory. Archaeology was a game of grab-and-go in the name of imperial glory. Stein always managed to be a camel train and oasis or two ahead of his international rivals.
See full review: SMH website

Books of the Month

Shearer's Bookshop
4 July 2011

Recommendation from Shearer's Bookshop in Leichhardt, SydneyThank you to Shearer's Bookshop in Leichhardt NSW, whose blog,, has recommended Journeys on the Silk Road among its Books of the Month for July 2011.
Mark, of Shearer's, writes: "For any true book lover, this one is a must. The story of the world's oldest printed book, Journeys on the Silk Road, is about culture, religion, history and the impact that the printed word has had for us all. Enthrallingly written with some fascinating insights, this book about a book is unputdownable."
Alex, of Picador, writes: "Journeys on the Silk Road tells the fascinating story of the unearthing of the world's oldest printed book, the Diamond Sutra, in a hidden library among the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. The great literary discovery of the 20th century, the sutra dated to 868, and went on to influence the writings of Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley and the Dalai Lama. Impecably researched and beautifully written, Journeys satisfies as a detective story, explorer's tale, and literary thriller with the book as the hero! This year's quintessential read for both bibliophiles and those with an interest in Buddhism.

ABC Radio National: The Book Show

ABC portrait of Ramona Koval Presented by Ramona Koval (pictured)
28 June 2011
Ramona Koval: The story of the discovery is a great, epic tale, and we're going to talk about that shortly, but how did your interest in the Diamond Sutra get piqued?
Joyce Morgan: My interest was, really, I tripped over the story, in a way. I was, of all places, in Los Angeles at the Getty Museum, where I was looking around the Conservation Department, and we walked past a computer screen and somebody said to me, "Oh, that's some work we're doing in the Gobi Desert, some conservation work". And the image of the caves, just captivated me. And I thought, I've just got to go there.
Listen to full interview: ABC Radio National podcast (20 minutes)

Valley of the lost scrolls

Sydney Morning Herald article By Joyce Morgan
The Sydney Morning Herald, Traveller
25 June 2011

The camel man drops to his knees. Until now Mr Liu has shown no sign of tiring. Indeed he has belted out song after song as he has walked ahead of me through the towering dunes of the Gobi Desert.
And then he begins burrowing. There's nothing to mark this spot other than a solitary bush a few metres away. But minutes later he uncovers from the sand a black plastic bin liner. He pulls out of it a camp chair. Then another.
After just a few hours, I'm relieved to have something more forgiving to sit on than a saddle lashed between the twin hairy humps of a Bactrian camel. In the desert, where there's rarely even a scrubby bush to lean on, a battered folding chair is a luxury. I realise how the loss of a camp chair must have irked the trailblazing desert traveller Aurel Stein, the British-Hungarian explorer and archaeologist whose footsteps I'm tracing, when he dropped it in this region a century ago.
See full article: SMH website

A hidden world of priceless knowledge

Sydney Morning Herald article By Joyce Morgan
The Sydney Morning Herald, News Review
4 June 2011

The librarian presents a written statement and asks me to read it aloud. I clear my throat and recite the paragraph. I promise not to mark, deface or injure anything. And I promise not to smoke or kindle any fires. If only Julius Caesar had taken such an oath, the great library at Alexandria might still be standing. The pledge is one all must utter before admission to Oxford's Bodleian Library.
There is a history of the destruction by fire of the world's great libraries, either by accident — step forward, Caesar — or design. India's great monastic library Nalanda burnt for three days after it was torched by 12th-century Islamic invaders.
Perhaps never before have books been consigned to storage or scrapped by their custodians, yet that is the Sophie's choice increasingly facing libraries, institutions on the frontline of the digital age.
See full article: SMH website

Heavenly Bodies

Heavenly Bodies article By Joyce Morgan
The Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum
30 August 2008

CHINESE workers were levelling a school sports field a decade ago when they stumbled across an ancient burial pit. Within it were heads with gentle smiles, torsos carved with rich ornaments and feet that stood on lotus flowers. All had been ritually buried.
They were fragments of 6th-century Buddhist figures and no one had seen anything quite like them. They are distinct, not just for the traces of coloured pigments and gilding that still glows despite, or perhaps because of, their long entombment. But among them are figures that embody a paradox: they look unworldly yet sensuous, sublime yet human. Their gaze is turned to matters of the spirit while their robes cling to their slim, androgynous bodies. No wonder they're smiling.
The workers had unearthed one of the country's most significant recent archaeological discoveries: more than 200 torsos, 144 Buddha heads and nearly 50 heads of saintly attendant bodhisattvas. And they'd uncovered an enduring mystery. Why had such beautiful figures been buried? For unlike the better known Terracotta Army, the Buddhas from Qingzhou were not made to accompany the dead but to inspire the living. It is just one of the mysteries that surround the limestone figures, 35 of which will be on exhibition in The Lost Buddhas at the Art Gallery of NSW. It is the first time some of the figures have left China.
See full article: PDF document

My, how you've changed

My, how You've Changed article By Joyce Morgan
The Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum
30 August 2008

There are moustached Buddhas, hollow-cheeked, starving Buddhas, jolly, big-bellied ones and slim smiling figures. The Buddha is nothing if not adaptable. As the religion spread across Asia from its birthplace in northern India about the 5th century BC, the Buddha has taken on the features of those it has encountered.
The Buddha grew a moustache, put on sandals and developed rippling muscles as he appeared in Gandhara, present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. These Buddhas resemble ancient Greek or Roman gods and reflect the impact on the region of the conquest by Alexander the Great.
As Buddhism entered China, probably via the Central Asian Silk Road about the 2nd century, the early images still looked distinctly Greco-Roman. But the imported style of the Gandharan-influenced Buddhas was gradually supplanted by a home-grown look. A Chinese style emerged with sinocised features and courtly robes by about the 5th century.
See full article: PDF document

Jewel of the Desert

Jewel of the Desert article By Joyce Morgan
Good Weekend magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald
12 April 2008

At the dawn of the last century, a monk was clearing sand that had been blown from the Gobi Desert into a meditation cave when his glance lighted on a wall. Just across the threshold, where sun gave way to flickering lantern light, was the outline of a doorway. Plastered over and painted, it had been deliberately concealed for nearly 1000 years.
What he had already found in the honeycomb of caves in China's remote west had prompted the itinerant Taoist monk to abandon his wandering and appoint himself their guardian. Frescoes in lapis, turquoise and malachite covered the walls and ceilings in nearly 500 temple grottoes hand carved into a 1.6-kilometre-long cliff face.
There were images of the Buddha, celestial musicians and angels, as well as 2500 saintly statues that had once provided solace for travellers along the ancient Silk Road. The contrast between the desert beyond and the meditative art within must have resonated with the contemplative monk; like a teaching on the aridness of the outer world and richness of the inner.
See full article: PDF document