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Reviewed by:
  • Dagbok förd under min resa i Centralasien och Kina 1906-1907-1908, I-III
  • George C. Schoolfield
Gustaf Mannerheim . Dagbok förd under min resa i Centralasien och Kina 1906-1907-1908, I-III. Ed. Harry Halén . Helsingfors: SLF, Stockholm; Atlantis, 2010. Pp. 1096.

About to plunge into Mannerheim's diary from his "ride through Asia"—as the most assiduous of his biographers, Stig Jägerskiöld, called it (1965), an exotic formulation imitated by the rather less worshipful Veijo Meri [End Page 276] in 1989—the prospective reader finds his head buzzing with mysterious phrases and names, Eastern Approaches, Great Game, Silk Road, and Tartary, Tashkent Xanadu, or with memories of adventure tales devoured in youth: James Hilton's The Lost Horizon, Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, Sax Rohmer's Dr. Fu Manchu. The appropriate sound-track is furnished by Borodin's From the Steppes of Central Asia or the Polovetsian dances from Prince Igor.

The diary does not quite live up to these expectant and overheated dreams. Begun on July 6, 1906, in St. Petersburg and completed on July 20, 1908, in Beijing, it is a matter-of-fact account of the journey by the fortyish Finland-Swedish nobleman, a sometime ornament, tall and handsome, of the court of Nicholas II, a colonel in the Czar's army, and a veteran of the disastrous Manchurian campaign in the Russo-Japanese War. In defeat, Russia now looked toward China, and Mannerheim was chosen to gather information on the "Chinese" lands along its largely uncharted and infinitely long border with the Forbidden Kingdom. His guise was that of a Swedish civilian, an ethnographer attached to the scientific expedition of Paul Pelliot (1878-1945), an already very distinguished French sinologist. The information he gathered was sent in coded letters to his father, the feckless Carl Robert Mannerheim and forwarded to the ministry of war in St. Petersburg. Initially, the expert and the soldier got on well enough, and liked to ride out hunting together, but before the first summer was out, their relationship had soured. In his introduction (I-XX), Halén presents parallel passages from Pelliot's own diary (published as Carnets de route, 2008). Understandably, Pelliot was discomfited by Mannerheim's small Cossack escort. In a passage of July 31, 1906, not quoted by Helén, Pelliot directly spots one of them, a certain Muselman named Iliazov, as a trouble-maker: he found "ce garçon" stretched out on his—Pelliot's—own bed, and Mannerheim came to the Cossack's defence. Also, the officer-in-mufti was given to fits of pique and occasional rudeness. Envy, on Mannerheim's part, was at work as well. Pelliot was an expert ethnographer, his companion, as Halén says (XVII) was a "self-taught, good amateur." Mannherheim was fluent in French, of course, and Russian, but the latter competence did him little good, according to Pelliot; he did not speak Chinese, although he made manful efforts to learn. Pelliot, on the other hand, bore the sobriquet, "le mandarin français." Mannerheim's diary-entry at Kashgar (August 31), the border station, lets the cat out of the bag. On a visit to the district prefect, to whom Pelliot delivered a letter of recommendation from the Chinese chargé d'affaires in Paris, the conversation was conducted entirely in Chinese: "P[elliot] fann det naturligtvis under sin värdighet att nåxgonsin låxta oss fatta en aning om hvad som afhandlades" (I, 49) [Pelliot [End Page 277] naturally found it beneath his dignity ever to let us get a notion of what was being discussed]. By January 27, 1907, Mannerheim struck out on his own: "Det var ej utan en viss högtidlig stämning jag i dag red genom Kashgars gator. Detta uppbrott betraktar jag som den egentliga början af min resa" (I, 132) [It was not without a certain feeling of solemnity that I rode through the streets of Kashgar today. I regard this departure as the true beginning of my journey]. Probably both Pelliot and Mannerheim were relieved at their parting of the ways. In Aspects of Research into Central Asian...


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