On foot, by rattling truck and local bus, by jeep and motorcycle, American poet and musician Scott Ezell explores the Tibetan borderlands in the twenty-first-century Chinese empire. The journey starts in Dali, in the foothills of the Himalaya in southwestern China, and extends north a thousand miles through towns and villages along the edge of Tibet, finally arriving at Kekexili, the highest plateau in the world, and crossing the Kunlun Mountains. Ezell takes us through landscapes of blond and gold barley fields, alpine meadows ablaze with wildflowers, silver-blue rivers beneath “clouds like burning aluminium,” and snow peaks “cracking and shattering into jagged resplendence against the sky.”
Balancing the epic is the intimate. Fluent in Mandarin, Ezell chats with farmers, shopkeepers, lamas, nomads, and police along way. There is also outrage in Ezell’s account, as, over the course of many years and numerous trips, he witnesses the rise of militarization, surveillance, destructive resource extraction and the killing of entire river ecosystems by massive dams.
The work of an exceptionally talented writer at the height of his craft, Journey to the End of the Empire is both a love song for the earth, and a cry of dissent against environmental destruction, centralized national narratives, and the marginalization of minority peoples.