Book Review: Etherton at Kashgar: Rhetoric or Reality in the History of the “Great Game”.

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Daniel C. Waugh

The book ‘Etherton at Kashgar: Rhetoric or Reality in the History of the “Great Game”’ is written by Daniel C. Waugh. Washington: Bactrian Press, 2007. 72 pp.

Many of the prominent writers have made an attempt in bringing out the complexities of politics in East Asia during the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Various approaches have been postulated to thoroughly examine the intricacies of manifold themes and events.  Most of them have used travelogues, intelligence reports and official correspondences. But, very few have attempted to focus particularly on the roles of important figures who have had a major role in the Great Game played in Chinese Central Asia region. Daniel C. Waugh’s project is one of such works that focuses on Percy T. Etherton, the British Consul at Kashgar. This work is one of its kind and is part of a large project on the British Consulate at Kashgar between 1918 and 1924.

Etherton had replaced George McCartney at Kashgar. His responsibilities were political, but trade and commercial matters were also pertinent during his posting. The writer considers Etherton’s purpose of network as “two fold”: first to gather intelligence and second to take steps which could counter possible political threats. The consulate’s intelligence and communication networks are briefly explained in the book. Under the networks Etherton encouraged Kyrgz tribal leaders in the Pamirs for information. Other informants from Sarikol plateau and Wakhan were the Ismailis. Further in the book the author unveils the vital role of Captain Samad Shah, a cousin of Aga Khan III, in providing information. Etherton would send “his own agents on specific missions, where they could cross the border disguised as merchants”.

Etherton took leave from the post in 1922 and his superiors did not wish his return, contrary to what he had wished. Skrine who took charge after Etherton, was highly critical of him. By relying on various documentary evidences Waugh also criticizes Etherton. At one point in the book, it seems that the author relies too heavily on Skrine’s observation. Skrine had accused Etherton of immoral activities at the official British residence and financial irregularities. In addition, Waugh espouses that Etherton wrote exaggerated accounts of his own experience which the Soviet and British historians seem to have overlooked.

Waugh engages the reader in a fairly different perspective. Etherton at Kashghar is a good research work expounding and analyzing Etherton’s role and the political realities during the great game- when Chinese Central Asia was engulfed in adversarial relationships and immense political pressure. For a novice, the political relationships and maneuverings explained in the book even help incite interest and learning.

The author has availed an important opportunity in probing the Etherton’s actions and placing Etherton’s place in history. Moreover, the author suggests that in order to get a better insight to the events of nineteenth and twentieth century all the travelers in Central Asia need thorough assessment.

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