The best parts of this beguiling but unusual book — part memoir, part travelogue and part paean to a people she admires — are those describing how Jardines overcame its opium war stigma and rehabilitated itself with Beijing. The story she tells is both evocative and emblematic of its time. For about 30 years after China’s reform era began, the country’s leadership was seized with luring conglomerates such as Jardine Matheson to invest and help bring prosperity to an impoverished population. The ensuing curious dance between western capitalism and Chinese statism fostered a strange world of hybrids that Keswick relishes describing.
Keswick is an engaging, lively guide and she is at her best when writing about the Chinese landscape.
In Yunnan, said to have some of the most fertile soil in the world, she marvels at thickets of forsythia and forests of camellias — a reminder that about half of the plants growing in British gardens originated in China.