The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China by David Eimer Bloomsbury 4 stars David Bartram China possesses the world's longest land border - more than 22,000 kilometres - and is neighbour to 14 countries, more than any other nation. David Eimer, Post contributor and former China correspondent for Britain's Sunday Telegraph , travelled this perimeter between 2005 and 2012, to show that a full understanding of the mainland cannot be gleaned from the eastern megacities alone. The title, derived from a proverb which emphasised how central authority waned farther away from Beijing, is given a modern application as Eimer paints a China unrecognisable from a postcard of the Great Wall or a stroll along the Bund in Shanghai. His journey takes him through Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan and Dongbei where he meets a colourful cast of locals tied together only by their notional Chinese citizenship. In Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, he meets Billy, an Uygur who is blunt in his disdain for Chinese rule: "We don't have any connection with the Chinese. We don't look Chinese, we don't speak the same language, and we don't eat the same food." Eimer does a marvellous job bringing the people he meets to life. Better still, he ties their convictions and concerns to wider social, political and cultural issues; we later hear from one of Billy's friends, who has a cousin spending life in prison for stabbing a man to death during the 2009 Urumqi race riots. Although the emperor may be far away, this is still a book about power relations. Eimer goes into some detail in outlining the historical circumstances under which these borderlands came under Chinese control, including an excellent and even-handed account of the most controversial case of them all: Tibet. He shows how China maintains its grasp on these regions through military presence, the suppression of local culture and mass Han immigration. He also shows how these policies are altering the lives of the 55 recognised - and many more unrecognised - minority populations. Sometimes it's simple. For example in Jinghong, Yunnan province, Han immigration has pushed up house prices to an unaffordable level for many of the local Dai population. Other times it is more pernicious. Billy complains of new rules which prohibit those under the age of 18 from attending a mosque: "When I was young, we all went to mosque with our fathers. Now the children can't do that." The resentment is not only one way: after the riots, in which more than 100 immigrants were killed, one shopkeeper who had escaped the violence compared the Uygurs to pandas, a sly reference to their dwindling numbers and the way they are perceived to be cosseted by Beijing. The authorities have offered minorities certain concessions in an attempt to encourage better integration, most notably exemption from the one-child policy. The Emperor Far Away is a witty and endearing travelogue, and one which presents a view of the country which may surprise even seasoned China watchers. One criticism is that Eimer at times seems a little unsure of his own place within the narrative. The recollections of his first trip to China in 1988 and his comparisons to the modern day are welcome. But some of the personal details jar alongside the serious social and historical issues, particularly one reference to his sexual exploits in Kashgar. But this is still an excellent exposition on how China's hard-line stance on the immovability of its borders is affecting the lives of millions living on the fringes of both a country and a society.