No man is inscrutable, if you know his thoughts, said Cuthbert Manns father, as he sent him to Mr Liang to learn the Chinese language and culture. Cuthbert was born in Hong Kong, educated in England and he returned to China many years later, in the 1890s, as a Cultural Attach to the British Embassy in Peking. Amidst political turmoil and personal danger, Cuthbert sets out on his quest to find the heart of China. In the last few months before his return to England, he works with Major Thomas Garland-Llewellyn on intelligence gathering in Hong Kong and the two become firm friends. But it is only on the voyage home, on the P&O Steamship Rafella, that Cuthbert comes to understand the true meaning of his quest.