China’s New Silk Road: Weekly Art & Culture Round Up – May 1, 2020

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China’s New Silk Road: Weekly Art & Culture Round Up
Friday May 1
Op/ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

This is the first of a new Silk Road Briefing series, which will be more personal, culture and travel based rather than business based themed, appearing every Friday. I recognize that part of the Belt & Road Initiative’s appeal lies in the romance of its ancient Silk Road genesis, and this column will address that aspect. Hopefully it will be an incentive to travel and engage, and I will be happy to feature people who do just that. Just email me if you’d like to be involved or have something to say.
Without further ado, here are this weeks musings:

Wade Shepards New Blog “On The New Silk Road”:

Wade is well known from his Forbes magazine articles on the Belt & Road, many from the heart of the matter posted from Kazakhstan. His new blog is well worth a visit, and has been prompting numerous thought-provoking comments and anecdotes from a wealth of readers, both business and travel minded. It’s a great addition to a space that really needs dedicated travelers and committed writers to fully explain what is going on, and Wade, the self styled ‘Vagabond Journeyer’ does that extremely well. Check his latest piece, a Kazakh-China love story involving Bubble Tea. Wade also has a Friday round up, but it comes out on US time and has different content. I strongly recommend subscribing to it, and we need men like him to be out and about and on the road.

Ankur Shah “LIfe In Limbo On The Sino-Russian Border”:

Ankur Shah has been travelling the length of the Russian border with China, which is an unusual and much needed approach. With Covid-19 to contend with, he must be the most exposed journalist in the world right now. In this new piece, Ankur tells us how he has rocked up at Manzhouli, right at the triumvirate between China, Mongolia and Russia. The city is in lockdown, and he explores how people are coping. It’s a great update for me, as I last visited Manzhouli ten years ago. From Ankur’s account, it doesn’t seem to have changed that much. Nevertheless, while local Manzhouli-Russia trade still remains relatively small beer at US$30 million per annum, Russia-China bilateral trade is expected to reach US$200 billion by 2024. An obvious replacement for US trade as US-China relations become stormy is Russia, and especially in agriculture. I look forward to Ankur’s take on how he sees that US$200 billion coming to fruition.

Lockdown On The Maritime Silk Road: Sri Lanka

I’ve been spending the past three months chilling at my home in Sri Lanka, which I bought seven years ago after leaving Beijing. I tend to use it as a winter residence, but this year the Coronavirus has extended my stay. In fact, the Sri Lankan government have done a pretty good job, only a few hundred cases and pretty strict curfews. It probably helps the current President is ex-military. It also helps that at home I have a large garden, swimming pool, two energetic Boxer dogs, two full time staff, great weather, food and an amazing library I have built up over the years. So, yes, I’m a lucky bastard but hey, I earned it.

However, being based here means I am also in daily close contact with Dezan Shira’s staff and operations elsewhere in China, India and Asia. Everything with the firm is ok too. I’ve been able to sit down and read, which includes Asian historic research into the Belt & Road, as well as look at more contemporary issues. I’m planning a new Belt & Road book for Autumn and a book of short stories about Sri Lanka. But otherwise everything else here is good. Although booze supplies are running awkwardly low.

Goodbye, One Of The Founders Of Afrobeat

Sad news this week in that Tony Allen, often described as the world’s best drummer (Brian Eno) has died in Paris. Nigeria is very much part of China’s Belt & Road Initiative, and Allen was very much part of Lagos, the capital. He was the drummer for Fela Kuti’s various bands for many years, before leaving to plow his own hugely inspirational trough. To get an idea of what he was about, get some of this, from 1984:

Allen died peacefully at his Paris home, aged 79. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he managed to release his final album, “Rejoice” with South Africa’s Hugh Masekela just a couple of months ago. It too, is a great listen.

Silk Road Research: Building A Library

I get asked a lot about how to acquire knowledge about the Belt  Road Initiative. I have an advantage in many ways as after 25 years living in China I felt it time to make a change and let some of the younger Dezan Shira & Associates staff run the business. After all, to be successful one needs to get to a position where your company works for you, and not the other way around. Taking that step has allowed me more time to spend on what I wanted to do. I’ve always had an interest in the old Silk Road, and have traveled along each of the three main China part overland routes, from Xi’an to Taxkorgan. One heads north of the Taklimakan, one south, and the contemporary route right across the middle. Therefore, the Belt & Road Initiative became an obvious choice for me to study. There are three main requirements to be able to do this properly:

  1. Travel. I have, and will do, and right now Wade and Ankur I mention above are on, or are planning new adventures. The Silk Road or Belt & Road is far to complex to understand – or appreciate without travelling along it. As George Clinton’s Funkadelic once stated, Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow. Armchair opinions don’t count in this part of the world.
  2. Time. It helps to have time! When first working in China, I spent the initial seven years almost completely in the country. I took all my holidays in China, and used free time to get about. Consequently I have been to all of China’s Provinces and most of the major cities. I made time to do that. So can you.
  3. Study. That really means building a library. Get offline and away from the noise, and set a small budget aside to buy books. They can be about wherever your specific interest lies, but it is important to build a reference library. You will find in time that you will be able to refer to it.
    Amazon and Ebay are good sources, as are sites like Abebooks and other specialist dealers. I have developed a great India/South East Asia library at my Sri Lanka home over the past few years, and as the picture shows, a beautiful blonde librarian too. Books are cool, women dig guys who read them and with lockdowns expected to be around for months, hey!  Are a great asset. I just postponed the purchase of a new car I would have bought and instead blew a small part of that online – on books. So I’m not going anywhere fast anytime soon, but I might stand a chance of becoming slightly more intelligent. Wonders never cease….

TGIF! The Baron’s Friday Cocktails

Yup, I’m a Baron, big deal. (Unless you’re a Baroness looking for a cut of my will. Good luck with that, there’s about US$154 in the current account, and no I don’t live in a Castle, or drive a Rolls-Royce). But I do know how to make a cocktail. This will be a regular feature of this column, so stay tuned. This evening we turn to Hemingway for inspiration, and the Daiquiri. The best cocktails should be very strong, very well made, very large and very good. As well as being simple to make:
2x White Rum (I use Mount Gay)
3/4 Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 Fresh Grapefruit Juice (or increase the Lime if you haven’t got any)
1/2 Cherry brandy or Maraschino if you have it
Garnish with a slice of lime.

Imbibe. Good, isn’t it? Now you can make another.  Cheers!
See you next Friday! (which is my birthday incidentally)

About Us

Silk Road Briefing is published by Dezan Shira & Associates.
Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the practice Chairman. Please contact Chris at or through his Linked In account, or visit the firm at

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