Archeology and History of the Silk Road

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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Croatia "kidnaps" Marco Polo

I love these kind of stories, everybody has a right on his own hero !

Former president visiting China praises “traveller from Korčula” who brought two worlds together

The Hina press agency reports that former Croatian president Stjepan Mesić has inaugurated a museum dedicated to Marko Polo in the Chinese city of Yangzhou. That’s right, “Marko” Polo with a “k”. Mr Mesić paid solemn tribute to the “Croatian-born world traveller who opened China to Europe” and, apparently, the Chinese applauded. If ever proof were needed that the Italian authorities don’t know what they are doing, this is it. How could they possibly let anyone kidnap Marco Polo? Yet the myth of the Venetian trader and traveller’s “Croatianness” is not new. According to Alvise Zorzi, who has written a shelf’s worth of books on Venice, including one on Marco Polo, traces the story back to another legend, which claims that the Venetian traveller was captured by the Genoese in a sea battle in 1298 near the island of Curzola – "Korčula” in Croatian – off the Dalmatian coast. Zorzi dismisses this version: “It seems more likely that on one of his travels, Marco Polo ended up in the hands of the Genoese off the coast of Cilicia at Laiazzo [today Ayas in Turkey - Trans.]”.

This, however, is not the point. Even if Marco Polo had by some chance been born at Curzola (Italo Calvino was born in Havana but no one would dream of calling him a “Cuban writer”), the island that Croatians now call “Korčula” was culturally Venetian, as is obvious from the old town, the Marcian Lions over the doors and the cathedral of St Mark. In fact, it was held in fief by the Zorzi family until the fifteenth century.

To claim that Marco Polo, or indeed any other resident of Curzola at that time, was Croatian simply because the island is in Croatia today, is to stretch history perilously far. By the same token, the ancient episcopate of Thagaste in Numidia is today called Souk Ahras, and is located in Algeria, so St Augustine was an Algerian philosopher. Septimius Severus, born in Roman Leptis Magna, a short distance from modern-day Al Khums in Tripolitania, would be a Tripolitanian emperor while Justinian was born in what is now Zelenikovo in Macedonia, so he would be Macedonian, or if you like Turkish, since he governed from the present-day Istanbul. To say nothing of the well-known French patriot, Nice-born Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Ridiculous. As if that wasn’t enough, Zorzi goes on, Marco Polo never mentions Curzola in Il Milione. He dictated his memoirs while languishing in a Genoese prison to Rustichello da Pisa, a composer of chivalrous romances, which at that time were written in langue d’oïl (as was Marco Polo’s book, originally entitled Le livre de Marco Polo citoyen de Venise, dit Million, où l'on conte les merveilles du monde). Moreover, Curzola is nowhere mentioned in the Polo family archives in Venice.

There is plenty of archive material – births, deaths, marriages, wives, wills and so on – from which to trace the impeccably Venetian roots of the Polo family, which was almost certainly resident in the San Trovaso district. All you want.

How is it then possible that the Croatian president, if we do not wish to question the Hina agency story picked up by the Rijeka/Fiume-based Italian-language newspaper, La voce del popolo, was invited by the Chinese authorities to inaugurate a museum to the Venetian traveller at Yangzhou, where Marco Polo tells us he was an administrator for the emperor, Kublai Khan, and some years later the missionary Odorico da Pordenone would also reside? How is it possible that the Italian government and diplomatic service allowed someone as incredibly famous among the Chinese as the author of Il Milione to slip through their fingers, to the possible detriment of friendly relations, commerce and tourism? With all due respect for Stjepan Mesić, can we condone his going to China and thanking his hosts for the honour of inaugurating a museum dedicated “to a Croatian-born world traveller who opened China to Europe, and who with his writings also reawakened Europe’s interest in China”? Let us leave to one side nationalist resentment and rancour over the expulsion of 350,000 Italians from Istra [Istria in Italian – Trans.], Kvarner [Quarnero in Italian – Trans.] and Dalmatia. We have already seen, in the former Yugoslavia, what hate can do if its flames are fanned. That’s how it went. End of story. Yet the Yangzhou snub is merely the latest in a long line of “misappropriations” by Zagreb of a cultural heritage that does not belong to Croatia.

Take, for example, the tourist brochures of Split [Spalato in Italian – Trans.], in which Croatian nationalists rechristened the Lion of St Mark a “post-Illyrian Lion”. The same goes for the “tweaked” memorandum given to John Paul II for his 1988 visit to Dalmatia, which prompted the pontiff to say that “Split and Salona [the city’s Roman name - Trans.] have special significance for the development of Christianity in this region, starting from the Croatian age and then in the subsequent Roman period,” as if the Slavs hadn’t arrived in the seventh and eighth centuries but a thousand years earlier. Above all, it goes for the exhibition in the Vatican library inaugurated for the 2000 Jubilee by Franjo Tudjman, who in his effort to obliterate any memory of Venetian-Italian culture called Marco Polo “Croatian by descent and by birth”.

Gian Antonio Stella
22 april 2011


Diplomatic tussle between Croats and Italians over the opening of Yangzhou's new Marco Polo Memorial Hall

Stjepan Mesic, the former president of Croatia, says he was invited by the Chinese to "officially open" the museumYangzhou has opened a new Marco Polo Memorial Hall, a museum dedicated to the 13th century explorer, but a minor tussle has already erupted between Croats and Italians.
Stjepan Mesic, the former president of Croatia, says on his blog that he was invited by the Chinese to "officially open" the museum, and that Chinese officials were "so anxious" to have Mesic open the museum that they moved the ceremony by one day to fit his China itinerary. Mesic was also due at the Boao Forum for Asia and to give lectures at the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs in Beijing.

Now why on earth would the former Croatian president be opening a Marco Polo museum, you ask? Isn't Marco Polo Italian? No, he was Croatian, says the Croats.

While historians remain divided over the exact birthplace of the explorer, some have suggested that he was born in Curzola, or Korčula, in modern day Croatia. Others believe that he was a descendant of a Dalmatian family which had come from Sibenik, Dalmatia, to Venice in the 11th Century. Sibenik also lies in Croatia today. Putting two and two together, modern-day nationalist Croatians say Marco Polo was not Italian but a Croat.

Italian paper Corriere Della Sera slams Croatia's posturing as a creative "kidnapping" of Marco Polo:

To claim that Marco Polo, or indeed any other resident of Curzola at that time, was Croatian simply because the island is in Croatia today, is to stretch history perilously far. By the same token, the ancient episcopate of Thagaste in Numidia is today called Souk Ahras, and is located in Algeria, so St Augustine was an Algerian philosopher. Septimius Severus, born in Roman Leptis Magna, a short distance from modern-day Al Khums in Tripolitania, would be a Tripolitanian emperor while Justinian was born in what is now Zelenikovo in Macedonia, so he would be Macedonian, or if you like Turkish, since he governed from the present-day Istanbul. To say nothing of the well-known French patriot, Nice-born Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The paper goes on to slam Italian authorities for sleeping on their job and allowing this to happen:

How is it possible that the Italian government and diplomatic service allowed someone as incredibly famous among the Chinese as the author of Il Milione to slip through their fingers, to the possible detriment of friendly relations, commerce and tourism? With all due respect for Stjepan Mesić, can we condone his going to China and thanking his hosts for the honour of inaugurating a museum dedicated “to a Croatian-born world traveller who opened China to Europe, and who with his writings also reawakened Europe’s interest in China”? Let us leave to one side nationalist resentment and rancour over the expulsion of 350,000 Italians from Istra [Istria in Italian - Trans.], Kvarner [Quarnero in Italian - Trans.] and Dalmatia. We have already seen, in the former Yugoslavia, what hate can do if its flames are fanned. That’s how it went. End of story. Yet the Yangzhou snub is merely the latest in a long line of “misappropriations” by Zagreb of a cultural heritage that does not belong to Croatia.
So did the Chinese really invite Stjepan Mesic to officially open the Marco Polo Memorial Hall? Apparently not. Chinese publications that reported on the opening of the new museum have been careful to say that Mesic was only invited to to attend the inauguration ceremony of the museum alongside Yangzhou mayor Xie Zhengyi (谢正义) and party secretary Wang Yanwen (王燕文)

The Yangzhou Daily gives us a very detailed glimpse of Wang's major talking points at the ceremony:"Wang started by giving Mesic a warm welcome to Yangzhou, and a brief introduction to Yangzhou's history and economic development. She said that Yangzhou is an ancient city with 2,500 years of history and its prosperity in times past has always been linked to its opening up. Marco Polo was an official in Yangzhou for a period of three years, and hence, Yangzhou has special historical ties with Europe, especially Croatia. The Marco Polo Memorial Hall stands as testimony to the friendly ties between the people of Yangzhou and Europe, which includes Croatia. For a long time, many countries in Europe have expressed a willingness to cooperate with Yangzhou in the areas of tourism, culture, economy, etc. Wang Yanwen expressed hopes that Mesic's visit will spur the cooperation between Croatia and Yangzhou in tourism, culture and economy. She also expressed hopes that Mesic would spend more time in Yangzhou just walking around, looking around and collecting lasting impressions."

Did Stjepan Mesic lie outright about his being invited to "officially open" the museum? Or did the Yangzhou officials purposely give Mesic the impression that he was coming to open the Memorial Hall because they were desperate for the attendance of a foreign dignitary? Did they attempt to get in touch with the Italian Consulate-General in Shanghai at all? These are questions we hope will be answered in the days ahead.

Source

Documentary traces glory of silk road

Play Video
After the successful documentary series "Palace Museum" and "Dun Huang", China's TV professionals have begun shooting another documentary called "Silk Road". The film went into production last Saturday in Turpan of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, a major stop on the old trade route.
The documentary tracks the origin and development of the silk road, the ancient commercial route linking China and countries to the west starting some two thousand years ago. The documentary will recount the role the road has played in the politics, economy, culture and military of China. It will also narrate some legendary stories that have happened along the road.

The 10,000 kilometer route started from Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, making its way west through Gansu's Dunhuang, and some major towns of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Merchants trekked along the path to trade with western countries as far away as Italy.
Chen Xiaoqing, director of Department of Operation, CCTV Documentary Channel said, "It's the first time for the Chinese to shoot a documentary about the silk road. First, from China to Italy, we will complete all the work without help from any foreign teams. Second, we will put emphasis on the stories of people who created civilization on the two thousand year old road."
Produced by CCTV's documentary channel, the entire show will be divided into eight 50-minute episodes. The program is scheduled to be aired in June of next year.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Liao masks offer rare peek into life of Qidan people

Source: China Daily 26 July 2011
The Qidan, also called Khitan, were an ethnic group who inhabited the broad grasslands of North China more than 1,000 years ago.
They built the empire of the Liao Dynasty ((907-1125) in East Asia that ruled over the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, and parts of northern China.
Their rule overlapped with that of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907-960) and the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) in other parts of China.
They were finally overthrown by another ethnic group that founded the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234).
Little is known about the Qidan lifestyle but the few artifacts now housed in Beijing's Capital Museum provide some clues.
Take the gilded silver mask.
The well-preserved mask, unearthed from Longkou village in Beijing, is made of a sheet of silver and shows a face with combed-back hair, the eyes and lips closed. The gold on it is nearly all gone.
The funerary mask belonged to a female Qidan noble.
"The Qidan believed that if one's body could be preserved, the spirit would stay forever," Tang Guoyao, associate researcher of the Capital Museum, says.
Like the ancient Egyptians, the Qidan mummified their dead, covering the face with a metal mask and the body with a net made of silver threads.
More than 100 such Liao masks have been excavated, mostly from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
Some are of pure gold and some are gilded. There are also those made of silver and copper, reflecting a highly hierarchical nobility.
Two gold masks, now kept in the Inner Mongolia Museum, belonged to a princess and her husband of a kingdom called Chen of the Liao Dynasty, and tell of their supreme status.
Many theories, of which three have gained currency, have been put forward as to the origin of this Qidan custom.
One says the Qidan embraced shamanism, which believes everything has a spirit. The Liao masks look very similar to what the shamans wore at their religious rituals.
Another holds the custom comes from Buddhism, which was also popular among the Qidan. And gold-faced Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were considered particularly sacred. Women even daubed their faces with yellow paint to mimic the Buddha.
The third and perhaps the most convincing says that during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), when members of the royal family died, their bodies would be covered with what was called Jade Clothes Sewn with Golden Thread.
It is very likely the Qidan borrowed this as their funerary masks and net shrouds are quite similar to the Jade Clothes Sewn with Golden Thread.

Chinese museum, Swiss foundation cooperate to restore ancient silk relics

Source: Xinhuanet [2011-08-26 08:30:03]
A north China museum has worked with a Swiss foundation to successfully restore 14 pieces of silk relics unearthed from tombs with over 1,000 years of history, sources with the museum said Sunday.

Since 2010, the Inner Mongolia Museum and the fabric restoration and research center of the Switzerland-based Abegg Foundation have conducted research and repaired antique silk costumes, said Tala, director of the museum.

The costumes were discovered in 1991 from a cluster of nine tombs that were built in the Liao Dynasty (907-1125), also known as the Khitan Empire, according to Tala.

The tombs, located in Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner (county) of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, are believed to have belonged to Khitan nobles.

Tala said the cooperation of the two sides will lay the foundation for further research on antique fabrics and shed light on ancient culture of the Liao Dynasty.

The lost oasis on the silk road (Part 5-7)

From the CCTV series "The Road to Discovery": "The lost oasis on the silk road"

Part 5









Part 6









Part 7

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Western Influences Art in the East

Another story from Dorothy King's PhDiva's blog

FRIDAY, AUGUST 19, 2011

Western Influences Art in the East
I thought I'd post some images from Afghanistan and Pakistan which seem to be influenced by Greek and Roman art.

A Satyr from the Apsidal Temple at Sirkap now in Taxila Museum. The temple was sacked by the Kushan in AD 65, so we can confidently date the sculptures to the decades before this, and after the destruction of the city by an earthquake in AD 30 (photo):

Sirkap was founded by Demetrius I of Bactria, but flourished under the Parthians from c. 100 BC onwards. Although many of the sculptures show 'Greek' influence, much of that influence would have been indirect and through the Parthians - Taxila, on the opposite bank of was part of the Achaemenid empire after it's conquest by Darius. Apollonius of Tyana visited, and described it as a Greek style city (text), although when these sculptures were carved it was the capital of the Indo-Parthian kings.

A satyr is just a satyr, but a woman in a helmet wielding a spear is Athena. This figure now in the museum in Lahore is almost shocking as it looks as if it could have been imported from Rome - but the schist shows it was made in Ghandara in the 2nd century AD (photo):

This stucco head from Hadda in Kabul is often described as Mithras because of the bonnet, but this was also worn by the Dioscuri, who were regularly depicted in Central Asia (photo):

And have you ever wondered what a Roman personification of a river god might look like re-interpreted in circa AD 100 Pakistan? Well here's one now in Karachi museum ...

And this is what happens when you send marine figures to Gandhara .... (relief in British Museum);

One of the few early examples of Buddhist small arts to survive is this reliquary from Bimaran now in the British Museum. It was made in the first century to hold a bone of the Buddha, around which Stuppa 2 was constructed. What's interesting as it's a well date example of an early image of Buddha, and he is shown, as he was regularly in Gandhara sculpture, in an arcade.

This idea of showing figures in an arcade is familiar in Early Christian art, as on this sarcophagus in Arles:

The Christian sarcophagus post-dates the Buddhist reliquary, and copied earlier pagan Roman sculptures. The image of Christ, like that of the Buddha, has it's origins in earlier depictions. So these two palliatus-clad religious leaders ... (source)

Have their origins in earlier figures such as the Lateran Sophocles ...

And although it's too easy to see Greek or Roman influences on the heavily draped 'classical' Buddhas of Gandhara, this influence is more likely to have come through Parthian and Syrian figures such as this one from Ksar El Abiad in Syria.


Over 200 1,000-year-old coins unearthed in Inner Mongolia

HOHHOT, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- More than 200 coins that were used 1,000 years ago were excavated in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, said local archaeologists on Tuesday.

The green verdigris-covered coins, most from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and some from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), were unearthed at a construction site in Araxan League, said Zhang Zhenzhou with the Araxan Museum.

Zhang added that the place where the coins were found belonged to the Western Xia Kingdom, which means that the area was probably a business hub between Northern Song and Western Xia.

Zhang's opinion is echoed by Li Daxiang, curator of Weiwu municipal museum in Gansu Province.

"Despite the many battles between the two kingdoms, bilateral trade was booming, which lead to the transfer of the Northern Song coins to Western Xia," Li said.

Probably people tried to hide their money during warfare by burying the coins, Zhang said.

The archaeologists are classifying and studying the coins in order to ascertain in which year the coins were buried and hopefully shed some light on ancient bilateral trade, Zhang said.

Historical records show that the Song silk, porcelain, iron and various textiles were traded to places as far as the Indus River and modern-day Iraq.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Buddhism, Indian Embassies and Rome

Again a thoroughly written entry from Dorothy King's PhDiva Blog

This inscription of Ashoka at Kandahar is now lost. It was written in Greek and Aramaic, and refers to his attempts to spread the "doctrine of piety" - ie Buddhism. Ashoka himself converted to Buddhism around 264 BC and devoted a great deal of energy to converting others. Since he conquered Afghanistan, his interested in what he called the "Yona" or "Yojanas" (Ionians, ie Greeks) there was understandable.

What was more surprising was Ashoka's attempt to convert Greek kings beyond the fringes of his empire. His Edict Nb13 records messengers send some 4,000 miles:
where the Yona-raja king Amtiyoko rules, beyond there where the four kings named Turamaye, Amtikini, Maka and Alikasudaro rule ...
Amtiyoko was Antiochus II Theos (261–246 BC) of Syria; Turamaye was Ptolemy II Philadelphos (285–247 BC) of Egypt; Amtikini was Antigonus II Gonatas (278–239 BC) of Macedon; Maka was Magas of Cyrene (300–258 BC); and Alikasudaro Alexander II of Epirus (272–258 BC).

Their responses are not recorded, but Pliny (NH, 6. 21) records an embassy led by Dionysius to India sent by Ptolemy II.

Seleucus I had sent Megasthenes to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, the grand-father of Ashoka (Arrian, Anabasis 5.6); Seleucus' realm bordered the Mauryan Empire, so Megasthenes was able to use Bactria as a base to research his Indica. The Seleucids then sent Deimachus to the court of his successor Bindusara (Strabo II, 1, 9 & 14; XV,1,12). There is evidence that Seleucus' daughter married the Hindu Chandragupta Maurya as part of a treaty; Chadragupta sent Seleucus war elephants (Strabo 15, 724; see JSTOR and Appian, Syrian Wars 55):

He crossed the Indus and waged war with Sandrocottus, king of the Indians, who dwelt on the banks of that stream, until they came to an understanding with each other and contracted a marriage relationship. Some of these exploits were performed before the death of Antigonus and some afterward.

Antiochus III followed in Alexander's footsteps and went to Afghanistan:

He crossed the Caucasus (Hindu Kush) and descended into India; renewed his friendship with Sophagasenus the king of the Indians; received more elephants, until he had a hundred and fifty altogether; and having once more provisioned his troops, set out again personally with his army: leaving Androsthenes of Cyzicus the duty of taking home the treasure which this king had agreed to hand over to him. (Polybius 11.39)

Embassies went both ways. We know of an embassy which came from Indian in the time of Augustus, described by Strabo (15.1.4 and 73, citing Nicholas of Damascus):

But from India, from one place and from one king, I mean Pandion, or another Porus, there came to Caesar Augustus presents and gifts of honour and the Indian sophist who burnt himself up at Athens, as Calanus had done, who made a similar spectacular display of himself before Alexander.
He says that at Antioch, near Daphne, he chanced to meet the Indian ambassadors who had been despatched to Caesar Augustus; that the letter plainly indicated more than three ambassadors, but that only three had survived (whom he says he saw), but the rest, mostly by reason of the long journeys, had died; and that the letter was written in Greek on a skin; and that it plainly showed that Porus was the writer, and that, although he was ruler of six hundred kings, still he was anxious to be a friend to Caesar, and was ready, not only to allow him a passage through his country, wherever he wished to go, but also to co-operate with him in anything that was honourable. Nicolaus says that this was the content of the letter to Caesar, and that the gifts carried to Caesar were presented by eight naked servants, who were clad only in loin-cloths besprinkled with sweet-smelling odours; and that the gifts consisted of the Hermes, a man who was born without arms, whom I myself have seen, and large vipers, and a serpent ten cubits in length, and a river tortoise three cubits in length, and a partridge larger than a vulture.
They were accompanied also, according to him, by the man who burned himself up at Athens; and that whereas some commit suicide when they suffer adversity, seeking release from the ills at hand, others do so when their lot is happy, as was the case with that man; for, he adds, although that man had fared as he wished up to that time, he thought it necessary then to depart this life, lest something untoward might happen to him if he tarried here; and that therefore he leaped upon the pyre with a laugh, his naked body anointed, wearing only a loin-cloth; and that the following words were inscribed on his tomb: 'Here lies Zarmanochegas, an Indian from Bargosa, who immortalised himself in accordance with the ancestral customs of the Indians.'


Most memorable is the Indian who stayed behind and killed himself at Eleusis.

But who were these Indians who visited Augustus? That the embassy was at Antioch suggests it was taking an overland route via Syria and Iran. Pandion is believe to be a corruption of the Pandyan Dynasty of Tamil, but given that the sea route between Southern India and the Suez was well documented under Augustus, one must question this. The writer of the letter they carried is given as king Porus, also the name of the king of Paurava that Alexander the Great had fought in what is today the Punjab. We also know of Barygaza, the spelling from the inscription given by Plutarch, from the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea so can identify it as modern Bharuch in Gujarat, a city where according to the Periplus (49) gold coins from Bactria with Greek inscriptions were used - not surprising since the city was the terminus of a trade route through Bactria into Tajikistan. Because it was written in Greek, on skin, it seems more likely to have been written by one of the last Philhellene Indo-Greek rulers of Bactria, who were at the time losing ground to the Yuezhi forming the Kushan Empire.

Dio Cassius (54.9.10) also describes the Indian from the embassy that visited Augustus at Samos:

One of the Indians, Zarmarus, for some reason wished to die,— either because, being of the caste of sages, he was on this account moved by ambition, or, in accordance with the traditional custom of the Indians, because of old age, or because he wished to make a display for the benefit of Augustus and the Athenians (for Augustus had reached Athens);— he was therefore initiated into the mysteries of the two goddesses, which were held out of season on account, they say, of Augustus, who also was an initiate, and he then threw himself alive into the fire.

Because the passage is framed by Julia giving birth to Gaius and a statement that Gaius Sentius Saturninus was consul that year, we can date the embassy precicely to 20 BC.

The name of the Indian, Zarmanochegas, is taken to be a transcription of the Sanskrit S'ramanacharya ("teacher of S'ramanas"), meaning that he was a monk though not necessarily a Buddhist one.

Though the passage sounds strange, there is a similar tale of an Indian throwing himself onto a pyre at Babylon in the time of Alexander, preserved by Arrian (Anabasis 7.3) and Plutarch (Alexander 69).

We also have evidence of trade between Rome and Indian in the form of this Buddhist ivory from Afghanistan excavated at Pompeii.

By the early Christian period there is evidence for knowledge of Buddhism, although no proof that any Buddhists settled in the West. Clement of Alexandria (c AD 150 - c 215) knew about monasticism in the East (Stromata 1.15):

Some, too, of the Indians obey the precepts of Boutta; whom, on account of his extraordinary sanctity, they have raised to divine honours.
The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sarmanae, and others Brahmins. And those of the Sarmanae who are called Hylobii neither inhabit cities, nor have roofs over them, but are clothed in the bark of trees, feed on nuts, and drink water in their hands. Like those called Encratites in the present day, they know not marriage nor begetting of children. Some, too, of the Indians obey the precepts of Buddha; whom, on account of his extraordinary sanctity, they have raised to divine honours.


In the 3rd century Refutation of All Heresies (Philosophumena) ascribed to Hippolytus of Rome (+ AD 235), the author is aware of the Brahmins of India. Porphyry (died 305), is aware of both Hindus and Buddhists (On abstinence from animal food, IV, 17&18):

By the fourth century Christian writers such as Marius Victorinus and Jerome were quite aware of some of the teachings and history of Buddhism (Against Jovinianus I, 42): "To come to the Gymnosophists of India, the opinion is authoritatively handed down that Budda, the founder of their religion, had his birth through the side of a virgin."




Yuan Dynasty "Mantou Kiln" under reconstruction


A "Mantou Kiln" of the Yuan Dynasty in Jingdezhen, China's porcelain capital in Jiangxi Province, is undergoing reconstruction.
This kind of "Mantou Kiln" is named after the steamed buns very popular in China. And over the centuries, these kilns witnessed the rise and decline of the porcelain industry some 1600 years ago.
However, despite the great contributions the "Mantou Kiln" helped to make in ancient times, especially during the Yuan Dynasty, this method of porcelain production has long been abandoned in Jingdezhen.
The ongoing reconstruction of the "Mantou Kiln" will merge the architecture style of the Yuan Dynasty with traditional styles from the Ming dynasty.
The refiring ceremony of the "Mantou Kiln" will be held in October.

For the video, click HERE
For related news, click HERE and HERE

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Did Marco Polo Go to China?

Dorothy King writes so much nowadays that if you are a few days on leave, articles are already stored under the tab "Older Posts" and get easily lost and forgotten. That's a pity because she writes in a way that it makes you curious about the subjects she writes about and ads a lot of photo's to document and embellish her stories.
Here's another one from a few days ago, stored under "Older Posts":

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14, 2011

Did Marco Polo Go to China?

Because of a recent popular history magazine article re-examining the finds from underwater excavations off the coast of Japan of Kublai Khan's fleet, the theory that Marco Polo did not go to China is in the news again: Explorer Marco Polo 'never actually went to China' - Telegraph

The theory that Polo went to Persian and his fable is an amalgam of Persian travellers' tales was thoroughly discussed in “Did Marco Polo Go to China?” by Frances Wood. Because Wood discussed theories, there were other scholars who disagreed with her and argued Polo had gone to China. Another scholarly discussion ... then Japanese archaeologists announced they had found Kublai Khan's lost fleet - see here:





Kenzo Hayashida of the Kyushu Okinawa Society for Underwater Archaeology (KOSUWA) found the seal above, which proves the ship was Mongol, and these ceramic shells which confirm the use of grenades in the written sources as early as 1221.

The problem is that Kublai Khan tried to invade Japan twice, in 1274 and in 1281, and Marco Polo, supposedly an eye-witness, kinda confuses the two events, mixing up incidents from one in the account of the other that he "saw" ... He also described the Mongol ships as having five masts, when archaeology proves they only had three ...

So did Marco Polo go to China sometime between 1271 and 1295? Probably not, but who cares - lots of others did.

Perhaps the best known traveller to China was the Franciscan monk William of Rubruck because he left extensive writings about his visit to the Mongol capital Karakorum in 1254 - here. When he got to Karakorum he found that there were Christians there, mostly Nestorians, and a Church where he was able to celebrate Easter with some other Western Catholic Christians (here):

[we] passed through the Saracen quarter, where there is a square and a market, to the church. And the Nestorians came to meet us in a procession. Going into the church, we found them ready to celebrate mass; and when it was celebrated they all communicated and inquired of me whether I wished to take communion. I replied that I had already drunk, and could not receive the sacrament except fasting. When the mass had been said it was already after noon, so master William took us with great rejoicing to his house to dine with him; and he had a wife whose father was J of Lorraine, but born in Hungary, and she spoke French and Coman well. We found there also another person, Basil by name, the son of an Englishman, and who was born in Hungary, and who also knew these languages. We dined with great rejoicing, and then they led us to our hut, which the Tartars had set up in an open space near the church, with the oratory of the monk.

The Nestorian Christians had moved East to escape persecution as heretics, following in the footsteps of the traders who had been travelling between China and the West since the Classical period. Sources record Alopen arriving in Xi'an in 635 and establishing a Nestorian church. Whether the Daqin Pagoda in Xi'an was a Nestorian church before it became a Buddist temple is debated, but a stele erected there in 781 survives and details, in Chinese and Syriac, the story of the Nestorians in China. The stele is headed with the description "Memorial of the Propagation in China of the Luminous Religion from Daqin" ...

Daqin was the Chinese name for the west, as seen on the Sihai Huayi Zongtu map of 1532 - (I've circle it in red for those that don't read Chinese):



Gan Yang had been sent by the Emperor of China to Rome in AD 97, but he only got as far as Persia, so his account it probably of as little use as Marco Polo's. As he pointed out: "The king of this country always wanted to send envoys to the Han, but Anxi [Parthia], wishing to control the trade in multi-coloured Chinese silks, blocked the route to prevent [the Romans] getting through [to China]"

The Romans called China Serres or Serica; the Chinese called the Roman Empire Daqin or Lijian, and thought that the capital was the great city of Antu (Antioch). The Byzantine Empire at Constantinople was Fulin. Several accounts are gathered here, and detail the last Byzantine embassy in the Chiu-t'ang-shu:

The emperor Yang-ti of the Sui dynasty [AD 605-617] always wished to open intercourse with Fu-lin, but did not succeed. In the 17th year of the period Cheng-kuan [AD 643], the king of Fu-lin Po-to-li [Constans II] sent an embassy offering red glass, lu-chin-ching [green gold gems], and other articles. [Emperor] T'ai-tsung favored them with a message under his imperial seal and graciously granted presents of silk.

Also recorded in the 13th century Ma Tuan-lin, Wen-hsien-t'ung-k'ao, which records some later contact:

During the tenth month of the fourth year of the period Yuan-feng [November 1081 C.E.] their king Mieh-li-i-ling-kai-sa [Michael Caesar, of Cilicia] first sent the ta-shou-ling [a high official] Ni-si-tu-ling-si-meng-p'an to offer as tribute saddled horses, sword-blades and real pearls.
During the sixth year of Yuan-yu [1091 C.E.] they sent two embassies, and their king was presented, by Imperial order, with 200 pieces of cloth, pairs of silver vases, and clothing with gold bound in a girdle.


(My favourite part of the Chronicle is the fascination with the queens of Meroe: "There is also a report that in the west there is the country of women ... It is further said: the country of Mo-lin [ 'Alwa, or Upper Nubia]")

Numerous Chinese chronicles document contact with the West, and although none mention Marco Polo several mention other embassies from Western Europe in the Medieval period. From the Ming-shih, ch. 326 covering AD 1368-1643:

At the close of the Yuan dynasty [1278-1368 C.E.] a native of this country, named Nieh-ku-lun, came to Zhongguo for trading purposes

Nieh-ku-lun seems to be Nicolaus de Bentra, who succeeded as Archbishop of Peking in 1333.

Marco Polo may not have reached China, but many Western Christians did. Giovanni da Pian del Carpine was a follower of Francis of Assisi sent by Innocent IV in 1245 on an embassy to Karakorum, the Mongol capital. Giovanni arrived there in 1246, failed to convert the Great Khan, and returned in 1247 with a letter for the pope. His report, the Ystoria Mongalorum, survives and includes the letter; a report by his companion Benedict of Poland, the De Itinere Fratrum Minorum ad Tartaros, also survives. Another embassy was sent the same year with Ascelin of Cremona and Simon of St Quentin carrying letters from the pope translated into Persian. The Dominican André de Longjumeau went first to Mongolia in 1245 with letters from the pope, then again in 1249 with gifts from Louis IX. William of Rubruck was sent in 1253 by Louis IX, and went with Bartolomeo of Cremona and Abdullah, a translator. The popes were so happy with their reception that they sent Franciscan missionaries: in 1289 Nicholas IV sent John of Monte Corvino to Beijing and in 1307 Clement V appointed him Archbishop, with a church opposite the imperial palace.

These were all missionaries, whose primary aim was to convert the Mongols and Chinese to Christianity. There were also many merchants who, unlike Marco Polo, really did make it to China, but who were too busy trading to write fantastical accounts of the country. The AD 870 Kitāb al-Masālik w’al- Mamālik of
Ibn Khordadbeh, the oldest surviving Arabic geography book, is a good source of information about the Radhanites (pp. 2-3 here), Jewish merchants who traded actively between western Europe and China. Jews were barred from certain professions once the west had become Christian, so they turned to trade, using a common language as an advantage that allowed them to communicate anywhere they met another Jew. There is however no textual or archaeological evidence for Jews in China before the Tang Dynasty, when they were amongst those massacred by Huang Chao according to the Xin Tang Shu.

The Radhanites flourished under Charlemagne, who used them as translators on embassies to Persia, until the time of the First Crusade when the rise of anti-Semitism in the West led many Jews to flee France and Germany to Eastern Europe, Spain and North Africa. Slavery was still common in the west, but since Jews were forbidden sell another Jew, a number of slaves converted to Judaism. Although the Radhanites are credited with several innovations, such as bringing paper to Europe, their most lasting legacy was the introduction by Joseph of Spain of Arabic numerals - which is why today we count 1 - 2 - 3 not I - II - III ...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Explorer Marco Polo 'never actually went to China'

The neverending story of Marco Polo's trip to China.

Did he go or didn't he, that's the question now with a new episode with an article in the Telegraph of Wednesday, August 17, 2011 by Nick Squires



Explorer Marco Polo 'never actually went to China'
Marco Polo's journeys to China and the Far East established him as one of history’s greatest explorers but archeologists now believe he never actually went there.

They think it more likely that the Venetian merchant adventurer picked up second-hand stories of China, Japan and the Mongol Empire from Persian merchants whom he met on the shores of the Black Sea – thousands of miles short of the Orient.
He then cobbled them together with other scraps of information for what became a bestselling account, “A Description of the World”, one of the first travel books.
The archeologists point in particular to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in his description of Kublai Khan’s attempted invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281.
“He confuses the two, mixing up details about the first expedition with those of the second. In his account of the first invasion, he describes the fleet leaving Korea and being hit by a typhoon before it reached the Japanese coast,” said Daniele Petrella of the University of Naples, the leader of an Italian archeological project in Japan.
“But that happened in 1281 – is it really possible that a supposed eye witness could confuse events which were seven years apart?”
Marco Polo’s description of the Mongol fleet is sharply at odds with the remains of ships that the team have excavated in Japan.
The Venetian wrote of five-masted ships, when in fact they had only three masts, said Prof Petrella.
“It was during our dig that doubts began to emerge about much of what he wrote,” he told the latest edition of Focus Storia, an Italian history magazine.
“When he describes Kublai Khan’s fleet he talks about the pitch that was used to make ships’ hulls watertight. He used the word 'chunam’, which in Chinese and Mongol means nothing. “In fact it is the Persian word for pitch. It’s also odd that instead of using, as he does in most instances, local names to describe places, he used Persian terms for Mongol and Chinese place names.”
The explorer claimed to have worked as an emissary to the court of Kublai Khan, but his name does not crop up in any of the surviving Mongol or Chinese records.
The Italian archeologists’ scepticism over the extent of Marco Polo’s travels adds weight to a theory put forward by a British academic.
In a book published in 1995, “Did Marco Polo Go to China?”, Frances Wood, the head of the Chinese section at the British Library, also argued that he probably did not make it beyond the Black Sea.
She pointed out that despite being an acute observer of daily life and rituals, there is no mention in Marco Polo’s chapters on China of the custom of binding women’s feet, chopsticks, tea drinking, or even the Great Wall.
“There’s nothing in the Venetian archives to say that the Polo family had direct contact with China at all,” Dr Wood told The Daily Telegraph. “Nothing from China has ever been found in the possessions they left behind.
“One theory is that Marco Polo copied a sort of guide book on China written by a Persian merchant. Only about 18 sentences in the entire manuscript are written in the first person – it is extremely rare for him to say 'I saw this with my own eyes’.
“I believe that rather than being one person’s account, it’s a sort of medieval database of European knowledge of the Far East at the time.”

Monday, 15 August 2011

When East Met West Under the Buddha’s Gaze

A Buddhist monk looked at a 3rd century Emaciated Siddhartha statue at the Asia Society Museum in New York / Stephen Chernin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Article in the New York Times by Holland Cotter, August 10, 2011

After what seemed like an endless run of geopolitical roadblocks, “The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara” has finally come, six months late, from Pakistan to Asia Society. Is the show worth all the diplomatic headaches it caused? With its images of bruiser bodhisattvas, polycultural goddesses and occasional flights into stratosphere splendor, it is.

That all but a handful of the 75 sculptures are from museums in Lahore and Karachi is in itself remarkable. Any effort to borrow ancient art from South Asia is fraught, even in the best of times. For an entire show of loans to make the trip, and in a period when Pakistan and the United States are barely on speaking terms, is miraculous. (Without the persistent effort of Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, the exhibition would almost certainly never have happened.) So the show has a cliffhanger back story as an attraction, and some monumental work, like the fantastic relief called “Vision of a Buddha’s Paradise.” (Dated to the fourth century A.D., it’s a kind of flash-mob version of heaven.)

But most of what’s here is neither dramatic nor grand: a chunk of a column; a head knocked from a statue; a panel sliced from some long-since-crumbled wall. Like most museum shows aiming for a big-picture view of a vanished world, it’s a scattering of small effects: precious scraps and remnants. For every stand-back-and-stare item, there are a dozen others that require close-up scrutiny and informed historical imagining to make their point.

The multilayered and time-obscured history of ancient Gandhara is particularly difficult to grasp. The area, which encompassed what is now northwestern Pakistan and a sliver of Afghanistan, was a crossroads for international traffic. If you had business that took you to or from the Indian subcontinent, you passed through Gandhara. If you were in the business of empire building, you made every effort to control it.

Persia, under Darius I, colonized the area in the sixth century B.C. Two centuries later Alexander the Great, a Macedonian Greek and a conquest addict, charged in and charged out, leaving behind a Hellenistic occupation, which held firm even as Gandhara was absorbed into the Mauryan empire of India, South Asia’s first great Buddhist power.

Over time Greco-Bactrians, Scythians and Parthians dominated the terrain. Then, around the first century A.D., the Kushans, originally nomads from the steppe-lands north of China, settled in, extending their reach down into the Indian subcontinent.

They were genuine cosmopolitans, linked to the Mediterranean, Persia and China, and tolerant of religions. It was under their aegis that Gandharan Buddhist art, compounded of foreign and local ingredients, flourished.

for images, click HERE to watch the slideshow

The exhibition, organized by Adriana Proser, a curator at Asia Society, begins by showing elements interacting. The first thing you see is a substantial female figure carved from the dark schist that was the common stone of the region. She has a funny look, familiar but not. She’s dressed in a sort of cocktail-dress version of a Roman stola; her hairdo is pure 1970s Charlie’s Angels, long but with back-flipped bangs.

Because she wears a helmet, she’s been called Athena in the past, though she probably represents some regional genius loci modeled, at a remove of thousands of miles, on Greco-Roman prototypes. Another female figure with comparable features has more certain identity. Much as she resembles a Roman goddess of good fortune, the three clinging children she juggles mark her as the Buddhist deity Hariti, an infant-gobbling demon, who, after a little enlightenment, changed her ways.

The culture mix thickens further. On a fragmentary stone panel we find in relief a Persian-style column with an Indian nature goddess posed in front of it. A squat stone figure in baggy Kushan pants turns out to be Skanda, the Hindu god of war. And a stele devoted mainly to sober scenes from Buddha’s life doubles as a playground for dozens of cupids.

The point is, Gandharan art was all over the map. Yet confusion sparked innovation. The first known figurative images of the Buddha are thought to have emerged from this region. So did, despite all the crazy components, an instantly recognizable sculptural style, on persuasive display in the second of the show’s three sections.

Here we find the classic Gandharan Buddha. Dating from the second to fifth century A.D., he is a standing figure in an ankle-length tunic and a togalike cloak that falls in rhythmical folds, with hints at the shape of the body beneath. The facial features are symmetrical and crisply cut, and idealized, though on ethnic and aesthetic terms different from those of a Greek Apollo.

On the whole the image is naturalistic in a way that the purely Indian equivalents being carved from sandstone farther south were not. And the naturalism is especially pronounced in Gandharan images of bodhisattvas, those evolved beings who postpone nirvana to aid struggling creatures on earth.

One example from the Lahore Museum suggests a leader-of-the-pack biker: slightly paunchy, with a handle-bar mustache, a cascade of curls and a challenging stare. Technically, he’s Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, though judging by his ornamental hardware — bicep bracelets, neck chains — he still has something to learn about the spiritual path of less-is-more.

The show’s highlight, “Vision of a Buddha’s Paradise,” is in this section too, and culturally everything comes together here. The big Buddha seated at its center wears an off-the-shoulder robe, South Indian tropical attire, while a couple dozen of mini-bodhisattvas around him mix and match international fashions, with no two outfits, or gestures, or poses, quite the same. Two figures gaze raptly up at the Buddha; another, chin propped on hand, looks daydreamingly away; far below, two tiny observers feed lotuses to fish in a stream.

Was this really designed as a vision of Paradise? We don’t know, though we might if we had some clue as to the piece’s original setting, probably as one of several related panels in an architectural context. But, as is true of most Gandharan art collected before very recent times, such information went unrecorded, and an accurate sense of what this art meant to its makers and early viewers is lost.

Ms. Proser addresses the issue of context in the exhibition’s last section, which is in its own gallery, by going with what we know: that much Buddhist art from Gandhara took the form of carved narrative panels depicting episodes from the life of the Buddha; that these panels once appeared on the walls of sanctuaries or cylindrical stupa mounds; and that many of the artists were entertaining storytellers.

Their skills are evident in the sequence of a dozen or so panels arranged around a stupalike structure in the gallery. In one, the Buddha’s mother, Maya, anticipates his birth in a dream, and the artist has made her look like a Roman matron en déshabillé and asleep on her couch. But in a second panel, carved by a different artist and showing the infant Buddha being examined by a sage, we’ve switched countries and cultures: now we’re in a land of turbans, boots and layered outwear.

A third episode takes place after the Buddha’s enlightenment, as the lords of the four directions, essentially Vedic or Hindu beings, decorously offer him bowls of food. And a panel set next to that is packed with the figures of demons who had tried hard to prevent that enlightenment. The scene looks like a Wookiee convention. It’s very funny, but also rich with information about armor and weaponry in use centuries ago.

For historians the value of an exhibition is in just such details, while for nonspecialists the main attraction is likely to be visual impact. Ordinarily, I’d rather look at Kushan-era Buddhist art carved farther south from rosy Indian sandstone than at sculpture made in cold, dark stone in Gandhara. (Asia Society had a show of both in 1986.) But that’s just personal taste, and, besides, the show has changed my mind about this: it pulses with human warmth. That’s one of the things we go to great art for, though in this case, and against very long odds, some of that great art has come to us.


The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara” remains through Oct. 30 at Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, at 70th Street; (212) 288-6400, asiasociety.org.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Tocharians - Indo-Europeans of the East



The Tocharians were an Indo-European people and the easternmost branch of Indo-European culture. Despite their eventual location in the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang province in western China, their cultural and linguistic links to Central and Northern Europe are stronger than to the neighbouring Indo-Iranians, a parallel branch of Indo-Europeans who dominated the Eurasian steppes until the Mongol and Turkic expansion of the Middle Ages. Around the same time, in the 9th century, the Tarim Basin was overrun by Uyghur Turks, who destroyed the Tocharian people and assimilated their remnants.

The Tocharians are frequently associated with a series of mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin, which date from 1900 BCE to 200 CE. Physical anthropologists propose the movement of at least two Europoid physical types and associate these types with the Tocharian and Iranian (Saka) branches of the Indo-European language family, respectively.

It is the Afanasevo culture to which Mallory & Mair trace the earliest Bronze Age settlers of the Tarim and Turpan basins. The Afanasevo culture (c. 3500-2500 BCE) displays cultural and genetic connections with the Indo-European-associated cultures of the Eurasian Steppe yet predates the specifically Indo-Iranian-associated Andronovo culture (c. 2000-900 BCE) enough to isolate the Tocharian languages from Indo-Iranian linguistic innovations like satemisation. Within this culture, over 90% of the Bronze Age period mtDNA haplogroups and Y-DNA haplogroups were of European origin and a study determined that at least 60% of the individuals overall (out of the 26 Bronze and Iron Age human remains' samples of the study that could be tested) had light hair and blue or green eyes.

The Roman historian Pliny the Elder reports a curious description of the Seres (in the territories of northwestern China) made by an embassy from Taprobane (Ceylon) to Emperor Claudius, saying that they "exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking", suggesting they may be referring to the ancient Indo-European populations of the Tarim Basin.

The new finds are also forcing a reexamination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but it now seems that they may be accurate.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures from the Java Sea

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures from the Java Sea, edited by Regina Krahl, John Guy, J. Keith Wilson and Julian Raby

Hardcover: 328 pages
Publisher: Smithsonian Books (3 Aug 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1588343057

Part adventure story, part maritime archaeological expedition, part historical look into ninth-century Chinese economy, culture, and trade, Shipwrecked is a fascinating journey back in time. Twelve centuries ago, a merchant shipan Arab dhowfoundered on a reef just off the coast of Belitung, a small island in the Java Sea. The cargo was a remarkable assemblage of lead ingots, bronze mirrors, spice-filled jars, intricately worked vessels of silver and gold, and more than 60,000 glazed bowls, ewers, and other ceramics. The ship remained buried at sea for more than a millennium, its contents protected from erosion by their packing and the conditions of the silty sea floor. Shipwrecked explores this precious cargo and the story of the men who sailed it, with more than 250 gorgeous photographs and essays by international experts in Arab ship-building methods, pan-Asian maritime trade, ceramics, precious metalwork, and more.

About the Author
John Guy, Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has extensively researched all early shipwrecks discovered in insular Southeast Asia. He lives in New York City. Regina Krahl, an expert in the Chinese production of high-quality ceramics and their export markets, has published widely in the field.

The ruins of Guge Kingdom

PLAY VIDEO

Located in Zanda County of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Ruins of Guge Kingdom are like the Old Summer Palace of Tibet.
Although the kingdom encountered both civil strife and foreign attacks that fragmented the once prosperous state, it was not totally lost. Much can be learned about the ancient kingdom by studying its remains. Now, let's get an update about the ongoing maintenance and protection project at the site.
Established in around the 10th century, the Guge Kingdom was founded by one branch of a nearby fallen kingdom. During its 700-year history, the Guge Kingdom played an important part in the economic and cultural development of Tibet. Besides advocating Buddhism, the Kingdom also served as a major center for Tibet's foreign trade.
The Ruins of Guge Kingdom are located on a mountain more than 300 meters high. Although previous explorers have found fortresses, secret paths, pagodas and granaries, most of the rooms excavated have collapsed roofs, leaving only the walls standing. The remaining buildings are five superior temples and palaces: the White Temple, Red Temple, Samsara Temple, Imperial Palace and Assembly Palace. These structures have many inscriptions, statues and murals displayed inside. Their great research value has fixed the ruins onto the first group of National-Level Cultural Heritage sites.


Li Xingguo, director of Ngari Bureau of Cultural Relics, said, "The ruins of Guge Kingdom are essential resources of the region's historical and archeological studies. That's why the local government supports our project. So far the maintenance work is focusing on the five temples and palaces, especially the murals."
The most complete and valuable artifacts remaining are the murals featuring portraits of Sakyamuni, the King and Queen of Guge and other royal servants. These murals are painted in typical Tibetan style, and some of the techniques are believed to be lost arts.
So far, the maintenance team has used one of the oldest construction methods to fill in the gaps on the walls to prevent further cracking, and the whole mural reparation project will kick off in 2014. Work on the temple and palace sites is expected to conclude this year.



Located in Zanda County of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Ruins of Guge Kingdom are like the Old Summer Palace of Tibet.

Source: CCTV

Friday, 12 August 2011

Scholars look into techniques to protect grottoes in Xinjiang


Photo taken on Aug. 11, 2011 shows a printed picture of a fresco in the Kizil Grotto in Aksu of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. On Wednesday and Thursday, scholars from China and seven foreign countries went to Baicheng and Kuqa counties in Xinjiang to investigate the ancient Qiuci grottoes and look into the techniques to protect the buddhistic grottoes and frescoes in them.(Xinhua/Wang Fei)


An expert of the Qiuci Research Society reinforces the Kizil Grotto in Aksu of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 10, 2011. On Wednesday and Thursday, scholars from China and seven foreign countries went to Baicheng and Kuqa counties in Xinjiang to investigate the ancient Qiuci grottoes and look into the techniques to protect the buddhistic grottoes and frescoes in them.


Scholars examine a site of the Kizil Grotto in Aksu of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 10, 2011. On Wednesday and Thursday, scholars from China and seven foreign countries went to Baicheng and Kuqa counties in Xinjiang to investigate the ancient Qiuci grottoes and look into the techniques to protect the buddhistic grottoes and frescoes in them.


A German scholar takes photos of the ruins of the Subax buddhist temple in Aksu of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 11, 2011. On Wednesday and Thursday, scholars from China and seven foreign countries went to Baicheng and Kuqa counties in Xinjiang to investigate the ancient Qiuci grottoes and look into the techniques to protect the buddhistic grottoes and frescoes in them.


Foreign scholars discuss at the site of the ruins of the Subax buddhist temple in Aksu of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 11, 2011. On Wednesday and Thursday, scholars from China and seven foreign countries went to Baicheng and Kuqa counties in Xinjiang to investigate the ancient Qiuci grottoes and look into the techniques to protect the buddhistic grottoes and frescoes in them


Foreign scholars visit the Kizil Gaha Grotto in Aksu of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 10, 2011. On Wednesday and Thursday, scholars from China and seven foreign countries went to Baicheng and Kuqa counties in Xinjiang to investigate the ancient Qiuci grottoes and look into the techniques to protect the buddhistic grottoes and frescoes in them.


An expert from South Korea examines the Kizil Grotto in the Aksu area of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 10, 2011. On Wednesday and Thursday, scholars from China and seven foreign countries went to Baicheng and Kuqa counties in Xinjiang to investigate the ancient Qiuci grottoes and look into the techniques to protect the buddhistic grottoes and frescoes in them.(Xinhua/Wang Fei)

Turkic “Balbal” in Japan

Turkic “Balbal” in Japan By Mark A. Riddle

At the Rakan-ji Temple in Houjou-chou, Kasai City, in western Hyougo Prefecture, are some unusual stone sculptures. The entire collection is called the “Go-hyaku Rakan,” (‘five hundred arhat’ — an arhat is an advanced disciple of Buddha), and some of the sculptures at Rakan-ji are very much like Buddhist statuary seen elsewhere throughout Japan. But others are very unusual — they are not typical “Rakan;” they are not like the stone images of Jizou found everywhere in Japan; and they are unlike the douso-jin stone sculptures of Japan.4They are very unlike the tolharubang (‘grandfather figures’) found on Cheju Island, Korea, and the very similar figures of Hayato-zuka, in Aira-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture. Indeed, Japanese photographer–author Wakasugi Kei judged the unusual “rakan” sculptures of Houjou-chou to be unlike anything else seen anywhere in Japan, unlike any rakan statuary found anywhere else in the world, and questioned whether they were really rakan at all — and in that, he was right. So, what are they? Actually, the unusual “rakan” sculptures of Houjou-chou are very similar to, indeed quite the same as, Turkic balbal found in Central Asia. The purpose of this essay is three-fold: (1) to present the evidence supporting this identification of the unusual stone sculptures of the Rakan-ji of Houjou-chou as Turkic “balbal”; to offer additional evidence that shows the presence of ethnically non-Japanese people in the Kibi/Harima area of early Japan; and to explore the implications of this evidence.

Japan and Inner Asia: Some Connections

A new issue of the Sino- Platonic Papers, No 209

Japan and Inner Asia: Some Connections By Mark A. Riddle

In 1966 pioneering Japanese ethnologist Ishida Ei’ichirou wrote that “Many of the Japanese legends preserved from ancient times have connections, not only with the neighboring cultures of Eastern Asia, but with the cultures of people living in regions far removed from Japan.”1 The purpose of this essay is to recognize not just these legends but also other features of Japanese culture whose provenance can be traced to “regions far removed from Japan.” For each of the eleven such features identified herein, an attempt will be made to identify a possible origin.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Sir Aurel Stein, Lajos Ligeti and a case of mistaken identity


From "Chinese Manuscripts" by Imre Galambos from June 21, 2011

Another Hungarian looting China’s treasures? Sir Aurel Stein, Lajos Ligeti and a case of mistaken identity
(Imre Galambos)

Tonkō shahon kenkyū nenpō 敦煌写本研究年報, no. 4 (March 2010): 195-207.

The voluminous publication Zhonghua minguo shi dang’an ziliao huibian 中華民國史檔案資料匯編 (Archives of the History of the Chinese Republic) includes a group of documents called “Report related to the theft of historical artefacts in the Xinjiang and Gansu region by the British national Stein (May 1830–December 1931).” One of the files in the group is titled “Report of the Government of Jehol province regarding the coping of Buddhist scriptures by the Hungarian national Stein (September 9)”. In a recent article, the Chinese historian HUO Yunfeng 霍雲峰 scrutinized the details of Sir M. Aurel Stein’s (1862–1943) visit to China during 1930–1931 and came to the conclusion that the telegram from Jehol could not have been written about Stein. He concluded that the person mentioned therein must have been just an unrelated “ordinary man” (一小人物) who was investigated only because he was engaged in copying Buddhist writings and happened to have a Hungarian passport.

HUO was, of course, correct in pointing out the mistake of the editors of the archives in associating this telegram with Stein, he was, however, unable to determine the identity of the person referred to in the telegram dispatched by the Jehol Government. In reality, this was the young Lajos Ligeti (1902–1987) who was to become one of the giants of Mongolian and Turkic studies, and who subsequently served for 20 years as vice president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. From the 1980s, his name, transliterated as Li Gaiti 李蓋提 , became well-known in academic circles in China, as he gradually became one of the trusted authorities in the field of Mongolian linguistics and history. But at the time of his first visit to China he was still in his late twenties, and completely unknown to anyone there. He had just completed his studies in Paris with Paul Pelliot (1878-1945) and Henri Maspero (1882-1945), and upon his return to Hungary succeeded in obtaining a three-year scholarship to visit the lamaseries of Inner Mongolia to study Tibetan Buddhist texts…

Read the whole article here: Sir Aurel Stein, Lajos Ligeti and a case of mistaken identity