Number 223 April, 2012
Water Management in Jingjue 精絕 Kingdom:
The Transfer of a Water Tank System from Gandhara to Southern Xinjiang in the Third and Fourth Centuries C.E.
by Arnaud Bertrand
The present scholarly consensus is that the Chinese Han dynasty military force (second century B.C.E.–second century C.E.), when it reached the city-oases of the southern and northern Taklamakan Desert (in the modern Xinjiang region of Western China), introduced new agricultural and water techniques to the region. If this theory stands confirmed for some oases, such as Miran, Dunhuang and Turfan, via the famous tuntian 屯田 technique, the influence nevertheless is not only from one side. In fact, a great majority of the water systems still existing today among the oases of the region are either a product of local invention or of Western influence. Among these, water tanks excavated on the site of old Niya 尼雅 (Uighur Nïya نىيە; Southern Taklamakan), known since the Han dynasty as Jingjue 精絕, strike one with their distinctive shape. They were discovered in the early twentieth century, but few scholars have taken the time to analyze in depth their historical and technical relationship with the site and with the cultural panorama of Southern Xinjiang. In this article, by examining a combination of archaeological, geological, and textual records, I intend to show that migrants from the Gandhara region (Pakistan) either introduced or developed a tank-based water technique within the agricultural, economic and perhaps religious systems of the Jingjue oasis during the Kroraina kingdom’s rule over the Southern Taklamakan territories (third to late fourth century).