Archeology and History of the Silk Road

Monday, 28 January 2013

Alexander der Grosse und die "Nackten Weisen" Indians

PUBLIKATION: STEINMANN "ALEXANDER DER GROSSE UND DIE 'NACKTEN WEISEN' INDIENS

By Roman-Maria Höritzsch on  Mon 28 Jan 2013 02:27:51 PM
Die Dissertation von Marc Steinmann über dieCollatio Alexandri et Dindimi ist Ende letzten Jahres bei Frank & Timme erschienen. Die Arbeit wurde von Reinhold Glei betreut.
Klappentext
"Die 'Collatio Alexandri et Dindimi' ist ein anonymer, fiktiver spätantiker Briefwechsel aus dem Umfeld des Alexanderromans. In dieser Auseinandersetzung um die rechte Lebensweise vertritt der Brahmanenkönig Dindimus einen rigoros-asketischen Standpunkt, Alexander der Große dagegen plädiert für einen maßvollen Genuss der Gaben der Natur.
Für die vorliegende Ausgabe wurden erstmals über 90% der heute mehr als 80 bekannten Handschriften ausgewertet und ein neuer kritischer Text erstellt, den die beigegebene deutsche Übersetzung auch für Forscher anderer Disziplinen oder den interessierten Laien zugänglich macht. Ein breiter Similienapparat und ein ausführlicher Kommentar erschließen Sprache und Inhalt der "Collatio", deren Entstehung im frühen 5. Jahrhundert als innerchristliche Kontroverse wahrscheinlich gemacht wird.
Die Einleitung dient zugleich als Einführung und aktueller Überblick über den Alexanderroman und die Schriften in seinem Umfelde."
Titelangabe
Steinmann, Marc. Alexander der Große und die "nackten Weisen" Indiens: Der fiktive Briefwechsel zwischen Alexander und dem Brahmanenkönig Dindimus. Klassische Philologie 4. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2012. ISBN: 978-3-86596-461-8.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Art and Aesthetics of Form
























The Art and Aesthetics of Form: Selections from the History of Chinese Painting
  • Dates: Permanent Exhibit 2013/01/01~2013/03/25
  • Gallery: Exhibition Area I 210
  • National Palace Museum

The history of Chinese painting can be compared to a symphony. The styles and traditions in figure, landscape, and bird-and-flower painting have formed themes that continue to blend to this day into a single piece of music. Painters through the ages have made up this "orchestra," composing and performing many movements and variations within this tradition. It was from the Six Dynasties (222-589) to the Tang dynasty (618-907) that the foundations of figure painting were gradually established by such major artists as Gu Kaizhi and Wu Daozi. Modes of landscape painting then took shape in the Five Dynasties period (907-960) with variations based on geographic distinctions. For example, Jing Hao and Guan Tong depicted the drier and monumental peaks to the north while Dong Yuan and Juran represented the lush and rolling hills to the south in Jiangnan. In bird-and-flower painting, the noble Tang court manner was passed down in Sichuan through Huang Quan's style, which contrasts with that of Xu Xi in the Jiangnan area. In the Song dynasty (960-1279), landscape painters such as Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang created new manners based on previous traditions. The transition in compositional arrangement from grand mountains to intimate scenery also reflected in part the political, cultural, and economic shift to the south. Guided by the taste of the emperor, painters at the court academy focused on observing nature combined with "poetic sentiment" to reinforce the expression of both subject and artist. Painters were also inspired by things around them, leading even to the depiction of technical and architectural elements in the late eleventh century. The focus on poetic sentiment led to the combination of painting, poetry, and calligraphy (the "Three Perfections") in the same work (often as an album leaf or fan) by the Southern Song (1127-1279). Scholars earlier in the Northern Song (960-1126) thought that painting as an art had to go beyond just the "appearance of forms" in order to express the ideas and cultivation of the artist. This became the foundation of the movement known as literati (scholar) painting. The goal of literati painters in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), including Zhao Mengfu and the Four Yuan Masters (Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, Ni Zan, and Wang Meng), was in part to revive the antiquity of the Tang and Northern Song as a starting point for personal expression. This variation on revivalism transformed these old “melodies” into new and personal tunes, some of which gradually developed into important traditions of their own in the Ming and Qing dynasties. As in poetry and calligraphy, the focus on personal cultivation became an integral part of expression in painting. Starting from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), painting often became distinguished into local schools that formed important clusters in the history of art. The styles of "Wu School" artists in the Suzhou area, for example, were based on the cultivated approaches of scholar painting by the Four Yuan Masters. The "Zhe School" consisted mostly of painters from the Zhejiang and Fujian areas; also active at court, they created a direct and liberated manner of monochrome ink painting based on Southern Song models. The late Ming master Dong Qichang from Songjiang and the Four Wangs (Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui, and Wang Yuanqi) of the early Qing dynasty (1644-1911) adopted the lofty literati goal of unifying certain ancient styles into a "grand synthesis" so that all in mind and nature could be rendered with brush and ink. The result was the vastly influential "Orthodox School," which was supported by the Manchu Qing emperors. The court also took an interest in Western painting techniques (brought by European missionaries) that involved volume and perspective, which became known to and used by some Chinese painters to create a fused style. Outside the court, the major commercial city of Yangzhou developed the trend toward individualism to become a center for "eccentric" yet professional painters. It also spread to Shanghai, where the styles of artists were also inspired by "non-orthodox" manners, which themselves became models for later artists. Thus, throughout the ages, a hallmark of Chinese painting has been the pursuit of individuality and innovation within the framework of one’s "symphonic" heritage. This exhibition represents a selection of individual "performances" from the Museum collection arranged in chronological order in order to provide an overview of some major traditions and movements in Chinese painting.


Portraits of Emperors Taizu, Shizu, and Wenzong(New window)

Portraits of Emperors Taizu, Shizu, and Wenzong
Anonymous
Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)

The precious albums of Mongol Yuan imperial portraits in the collection of the National Palace Museum include eight leaves of emperors and fifteen leaves for consorts. Both albums were once in the former collection of the Nanxun Hall at the Qing court. The portraits in these album leaves were probably done on imperial order by Yuan court painters as small renderings of imperial visages. Painstaking brushwork was used to render facial hair with delicate washes of color for the eye sockets, highlighting the round full faces of these members of the Mongol aristocracy. The three Yuan emperors here have facial hair and wear monochrome robes, with Emperors Taizu (Genghis Khan) and Shizu (Kublai Khan) having a leather warming cap and Emperor Wenzong (Toq-Temür) a "seven-treasure layered hat." The thickness of the drapery lines varies slightly as well. These paintings of Mongol Yuan imperial visages might have been used as models for producing larger portraits or weaving tapestries, reflecting the tendency of Mongol rulers to adopt traditional Chinese culture at the time.
With Mongolia celebrating the 850th anniversary of the birth of Genghis Khan, the National Palace Museum is displaying its prized portrait of Genghis Khan with those of other Mongol emperors and consorts as congratulation.
Traveling on a River After Snow(New window)

Traveling on a River After Snow
Guo Zhongshu (?-977), Song dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink on silk, 74.1 x 69.2 cm

Guo Zhongshu, style name Shuxian, was a native of Luoyang, Henan. This work is unsigned but has an inscription by Emperor Huizong for "Authentic Work of Guo Zhongshu" along with his seal, "Treasure of Imperial Calligraphy." Originally part of a tall handscroll later cropped, the front with rope pullers on shore no longer survives.
This work shows two large boats with cabins below upper decks. Shutters, propped open to reveal geometric window latticing, protect from the wind and rain. The main masts are secured via ropes. Every aspect, including cabins, decks, and masts, is done in fine detail with exact and logical structure. The goods on the boats indicate these are also cargo ships, making this an important reference for studying Song shipbuilding.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A Fragile Buddhist Treasure


Gandhāra Buddha. Image: Wikimedia Commons, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0

A FRAGILE BUDDHIST TREASURE

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Experts at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) are in the process of analysing Indian Buddhist texts that are over 2000-year-old which have recently come to light. The precious manuscripts have already yielded some surprising results.
Birch-bark manuscript. Image LMU
Birch-bark manuscript. Image LMU

The texts of Ghandara

The oldest surviving Buddhist texts, preserved on long rolls of birch-tree bark, are written in Gandhari, an early regional Indic language that is long extinct. The scrolls originate from the region known in ancient times as Gandhara, which lies in what is now Northwestern Pakistan.
For researchers interested in the early history of Buddhism, these manuscripts represent a sensational find, for a number of reasons.
The first is their age. Some of the documents date from the first century BC, making them by far the oldest examples of Indian Buddhist literature. But for the experts, their contents are equally fascinating. The texts provide insights into a literary tradition which was thought to have been irretrievably lost, and they help researchers to reconstruct crucial phases in the development of Buddhism in India. Furthermore, the scrolls confirm the vital role played by the Gandhara region in the spread of Buddhism into Central Asia and China.

Restore, conserve, digitise, edit

At LMU a team of researchers led by Indological scholar Professor Jens-Uwe Hartmann and Professor Harry Falk of the Free University of Berlin has just begun the arduous job of editing the manuscripts.
Most of the texts survive only as fragments, which must first be collated and reassembled. The magnitude of the task is reflected in the planned duration of the project – 21 years.
The project of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities is being funded by a total grant of 8.6 million euros from the Academies Program, that is coordinated by the Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. It is one of the largest research programs in the field of the Humanities in the Federal Republic.

Fragile resource online

The research is not with the manuscripts themselves, but with digital scans. The originals are not only extremely fragile, but are held in various collections scattered around the world.
A large proportion of the surviving material is stored in the British Library in London.
The ultimate goal of the project is to prepare a modern edition of all the Gandhari manuscripts, making them available for further investigation and research. In addition, the researchers plan to produce a dictionary of the Gandhari language and it’s grammar based on the contents of these documents.
However, the project will be primarily concerned with illuminating the development of Gandhari literature and the history of Buddhism in Gandhara. It is already clear that the results will lead to a new understanding of the earliest phases of Buddhism in India.































Birch-bark manuscript in the Kharosthi script. Image British Library



Opening up new knowledge

Discoveries of these documents continue to be made and the understanding of the script and people is revolutionized by the recovery of 77 long birch-bark scrolls and around 300 palm-leaf manuscript fragments from Buddhist monasteries in the Gandhāran heartland.
Birch bark (bhoja-patra), like palm leaf, was a primary material used in India for writing before the introduction of paper and most of these early manuscripts have been destroyed, but accounts in ancient Greek literature even reveal birch bark’s usage in India at the time of Alexander’s invasion.
The oldest extant examples date to the 2nd or 3rd century CE, written with black ink in variants of the Sanskrit script. A recentpublication on these manuscripts from the British Library states: “As the Dead Sea Scrolls have changed our understanding of Judaism and early Christianity, so early sets of scroll fragments promise to improve knowledge of the history of Buddhism.”
At the core of the project is the construction of a comprehensive database in which all relevant information and results are collected, stored and linked together. The database will serve as the major source of electronic and printed publications on the topic, and regular updates will give the international research community access to the latest results
Source: LMU Munich

More Information

Archaeology of the Southern Taklamakan: Hedin and Stein’s Legacy and New Explorations
IDP, The British Library and SOAS  8th-10th November, 2012
Presentation on the The Kharoṣṭhī Documents from Niya and Their Contribution to Gāndhārī Studies by Stefan Baums Download Audio & Presentation   zip 62.1MB

SOURCE: PAST HORIZONS

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Chinese Scholars on Inner Asia

Chinese Scholars on Inner Asia

Edited by Luo Xin and Roger Covey
Published and distributed by the Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies
Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, Volume 174
Publication Date: February 2012
774 pages, 4 maps | 978-0-93307058-5 | $55.00 cloth, plus shipping of $4.95 domestic, $16.95 international

 In Chinese Scholars on Inner Asia, some of the best work of the past half-century by leading Chinese scholars on the history and peoples of Inner Asia is presented for the first time in English.
The fifteen essays were selected by a team of contemporary Chinese specialists to represent the unique and important contributions made to the field of Inner Asian studies by Chinese scholarship.
In addition, many of the essays have been revised and enhanced by their authors especially for this volume of translations.
The wide range of topics covered includes new evidence from the Turfan documents on the Turks and on Chinese military activities in Central Asia, appellations of Xiongnu Shanyu titles, the Sogdians in China, the religious background to the An Lushan rebellion, the establishment of the Khitan state, the cultural anthropology of the Khitan naming system, the Kirghiz and neighboring tribes,the Kerait Kingdom, the geography of Turkestan in the Yuan dynasty, the Mongol bo’ol, and the historical development of Manchu ethnic identity.

Luo Xin is Professor of History, the Center for Research on Ancient Chinese History at Beijing University.
Roger Covey is President of the Tang Research Foundation.
Orders may be addressed to the Institute at: srifias@indiana.edu
Please provide a mailing address with your order, and send payment to the SRIFIAS (address above) by check in the amount of $59.95.

The Archaeology of Power and Politics in Eurasia

The Archaeology of Power and Politics in Eurasia
Regimes and Revolutions

Edited by: Charles W. Hartley, University of Chicago
Edited by: G. Bike Yazicioğlu, University of Chicago
Edited by: Adam T. Smith, Cornell University, New York

View All Contributors

Hardback ISBN:9781107016521
486pages
65 b/w illus.
7 maps
11 tables
Dimensions: 228 x 152 mm
Not yet published - available from January 2013
£65.00

For thousands of years, the geography of Eurasia has facilitated travel, conquest and colonization by various groups, from the Huns in ancient times to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the past century.
This book brings together archaeological investigations of Eurasian regimes and revolutions ranging from the Bronze Age to the modern day, from Eastern Europe and the Caucasus in the west to the Mongolian steppe and the Korean Peninsula in the east.
The authors examine a wide-ranging series of archaeological studies in order to better understand the role of politics in the history and prehistory of the region.
This book re-evaluates the significance of power, authority and ideology in the emergence and transformation of ancient and modern societies in this vast continent.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Enku's Buddhas: Sculptures from Senkoji Temple and the Hida Region


"This is a little bit off The Silk Road but some of the Buddha's are so beautiful !!"

Enku's Buddhas: Sculptures from Senkoji Temple and the Hida Region 
Honkan Room T5   January 12, 2013 (Sat) - April 7, 2013 (Sun)
  
Seated Ryomen Sukuna, By Enku, Edo period, 17th century, Senkouji, Gifu
Enku (1632-95) was a Buddhist monk and sculptor who is said to have carved 120,000 Buddhist statues in his lifetime while making pilgrimages to sacred mountains all over Japan. Using wood from forests in the places he visited, Enku readily created Buddhist statues. Many of his statues are unpainted and clearly show knots in the wood as well as places where the wood was chopped or chiseled. Conveying the wood’s vitality, Enku’s unostentatious statues of Buddha were favored by villagers from the Edo period (1603-1868) onward, and even today they attract many admirers. This exhibition introduces 100 Enku’s statues from Takayama City in Gifu prefecture, with a focus on 61Enku's statues from Senkouji temple, including the Seated Ryomen Sukuna, a prized statue of a two-faced deity. There are also statues with the inscribed names of mountains Enku climbed, including Mount Hotaka and Mount Norikura. Standing like trees in the exhibition room, Enku’s statues evoke the atmosphere of Hida’s forests.

General Information

PeriodSaturday, January 12 - Sunday, April 7, 2013
VenueHonkan Room T5, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours9:30 - 17:00 (Last entry 30 minutes before closing)
Fridays on March and April until 20:00
Saturday, April 6, Sunday April 7 until 18:00
ClosedMondays
(Except for Monday, January 14 and Monday, February 11)
AdmissionAdults: 900 (800) yen
University students: 700 (600) yen
High school students: 400 (300) yen
Junior high school students and under: Free
*Prices shown in ( ) indicate advance and group (more than 20 persons) discount tickets.
*Persons with disabilities are admitted free with one accompanying person each.
*Advance tickets will be sale at the Museum ticket office (during museum hours, 30 minutes before closing hour), e-Ticket Pia (P-code:765-365), Lawson Ticket (L-code:31632), E-Plus and other major ticketing agencies from Monday , Octorber 1, 2012 to Friday, January 11, 2013.
*Special exhibition "Wang Xizhi: Master Calligrapher" (Tuesday, January 22 - Sunday, March 3, 2013, Heiseikan) requires a separate admission fee.
Access10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno Station (Park exit) and Uguisudani Station
15 minutes' walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Ueno Station and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station
OrganizerTokyo National Museum, Senkouji Temple, The Yomiuri Shimbun, NHK, NHK Promotions Inc.,
With the special assistance ofTakayama City, Takayama City Board of Education
With the Support ofGifu Prefectural Government
General Inquiries03-5405-8686 (Hello Dial)
Exhibition Websitehttp://enku2013.jp/ (In Japanese)

Related Events

Heiseikan Auditorium  January 26, 2013 (Sat)   13:30 - 15:00   RESERVE_FINISH
Heiseikan Auditorium  March 9, 2013 (Sat)   13:30 - 15:00   RESERVE

Highlight of the Exhibition


Seated Ryomen Sukuna Seated Ryomen Sukuna
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 86.9cm
Senkoji, Gifu

Standing Fudo Myo'o (Acala) with two child attendants
Edo period, 17th century
Overall heights: 95.8cm (Fudo); 62.3cm (Kongara); 58.8cm (Seitaka) 
Senkoji, Gifu
 Standing Fudo Myo'o (Acala) with two child attendants

Standing Thirty-three Kannon (Avalokitesvara) Standing Thirty-three Kannon (Avalokitesvara)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall heights: 61.0cm – 82.0cm
Senkoji, Gifu

Seated arhat Binzuru (Pindola)Seated Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
Seated arhat Binzuru (Pindola)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 47.4cm
Senkoji, Gifu
Seated Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 50.2cm
Higashiyama Shinmei Jinja, Gifu

Shinto deity UgajinStanding Karura (Garuda, also Karasu Tengu)One of the Eight Great Dragon Kings
Shinto deity Ugajin
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 19.8cm
Senkoji, Gifu
Standing Karura (Garuda, also Karasu Tengu)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 30.0cm
Senkoji, Gifu
One of the Eight Great Dragon Kings
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 16.7cm
Senkoji, Gifu

Standing Fudo Myo'o (Acala)Seated Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu (Cintamanicakra)Seated Aizen Myo'o (Ragaraja)
Standing Fudo Myo'o (Acala)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 172.8cm
Sogenji, Gifu
Seated Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu (Cintamanicakra)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 74.8cm
Higashiyama Hakusan Jinja, Gifu
Seated Aizen Myo'o (Ragaraja)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 67.4cm
Reisenji, Gifu


Thousand-armed Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara) Standing Thousand-armed Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara)
Edo period, 17th century Overall height: 114.3cm
Seihoji, Gifu

Left:Standing Dragon Head Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 158.3cm
Seihoji, GIfu

Right:Standing Sho-Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 156.8cm
Seihoji, GIfu
 Standing Dragon Head Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara),Standing Sho-Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara)

Standing Kongo Rikishi (Ungyo of Nio pair)Standing Kangiten (Ganesha) with shrine
Standing Kongo Rikishi (Ungyo of Nio pair)
Edo period, 17th century
Overall height: 226.0cm
Senkoji, Gifu
Standing Kangiten (Ganesha) with shrine
Edo period, 17th century
Overall heights: Kangiten 13.5cm
Senkoji, Gifu

One Man’s Search for Ancient China: The Paul Singer Collection



January 19–July 7, 2013
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Trained as a psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Singer is best remembered for his wide-ranging Chinese art collection, which he assembled largely at a time when American contact with China was severely restricted. Born in Hungary in 1904 and raised in Austria, Singer made his first purchase of East Asian art at the age of seventeen. He collected most aggressively after he immigrated to this country in 1939, making discoveries at art dealers, auction houses, and thrift stores alike. By the time of his death in 1997, Singer’s holdings had grown to some five thousand objects, mostly Chinese works of art, that he displayed in his modest two-bedroom apartment in Summit, New Jersey.
The Singer collection is particularly strong in ancient ceramics, metalwork, and jades. He referred to Chinese archaeological findings as a guide in building his holdings. He was also drawn to the unique and surprising, hoping that archaeologists would eventually prove them to be authentic. His pursuits were made more difficult due to a lack of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and China during the mid-twentieth century. American scholars could only follow the progress of Chinese excavations through academic journals such as Kaogu (Archaeology) and Wenwu (Cultural Relics). As he recalled, “A fairly large portion of my collection, acquired in the distant past, consists of objects that had been rejected by experts. Those same pieces were later recognized as being genuine as a result of information provided by archaeological excavations.”
Despite the small size of his apartment, Singer made his ample collection readily available to university and museum specialists, and he welcomed students to learn about Chinese archaeology and material science by examining his holdings. He also knowingly purchased copies and forgeries to highlight characteristics of authentic objects. In this way his collection served as a kind of research laboratory and yielded numerous publications and exhibitions. An amateur researcher himself, Singer was responsible for dozens of scholarly articles and catalogues. “I believe the excitement of working with these enigmatic objects, of trying to resolve questions of provenance, chronology and authenticity—when little or nothing is known about a piece—makes the effort highly worthwhile,” he explained.
Given his interest in Chinese antiquities, Dr. Singer inevitably encountered Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, who was also a psychiatrist and an Asian art lover. The two collectors quickly became friends after they met at a Sotheby’s auction in 1957. In the 1970s Sackler began to support Singer’s collecting habit with an annual allowance—and with the understanding that Singer’s holdings would eventually be donated to a Sackler museum. That promise resulted in the gift of the Paul Singer collection to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 1997.

All objects in this exhibition are from the Dr. Paul Singer Collection of Chinese Art of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; a joint gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Paul Singer, the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, and the Children of Arthur M. Sackler

Dr. Paul Singer amassed one of the most important Chinese archaeological collections in the United States and kept the more than five thousand objects in his modest apartment. With One Man’s Search for Ancient China: The Paul Singer Collection opening on Saturday, we asked photographer John Tsantes, head of Imaging and Photographic Services at Freer|Sackler, to talk about shooting the collection in situ at Singer’s New Jersey home back in 1998.
“Dr. Singer’s house, in a nondescript garden apartment complex in New Jersey, was not what I had expected. When you walked in the front door you had to be careful where you stepped. If you weren’t looking, you could bump into an object. In those days before digital, we shot with film. I had a camera mounted on a tripod and had trouble finding any space that would let me stand behind the three legs of the tripod. Every chair, every sofa, indeed every surface in every room—that includes the bathroom—was filled with objects, but everything was very well packaged and organized. One closet was filled with small boxes wrapped in brocade from floor to ceiling, and in each was an important object. When you opened a kitchen cabinet, you’d discover a work of art. Our registrars, who were cataloguing the collection, never thought that they’d be able to leave.”

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Saving the Silk Road


Saving the Silk Road
Global Times | 2013-1-13 16:53:00
By Xu Ming
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Burana tower at the Balasagun site Photo: Xu Ming/GT
Burana tower at the Balasagun site Photo: Xu Ming/GT
Kayalyk site Photo: Courtesy of Dmitriy Voyakin
Kayalyk site Photo: Courtesy of Dmitriy Voyakin
Suoyang site in Gansu Province Photo: CFP
Suoyang site in Gansu Province Photo: CFP 
Transnational efforts promise protection for old trade route sites
Two-thousand years ago, endless streams of camels carried Chinese silk, porcelain and spice along the ancient Silk Road westward to Central Asia, Western Asia and Europe. Following the same route, Western technologies, plants and handicrafts were transported to China. The endless sound of jingling bells meant that business was thriving, helping to form numerous important trading centers in the countries along the road.

The Silk Road, which started from ancient Chang'an (present day Xi'an) and Luoyang, meandered west to the Mediterranean region and south to the Indian subcontinent and was the longest and most influential route of culture exchange and trade as long ago as 2nd century BC. The prosperity of the road came to an end in the 16th century when it was finally abandoned.

Along the route today are only the remains of cities and trade centers eroded by time, yet not forgotten. Before it is too late, China and five countries in Central Asia that cover the main lengths of the Silk Road, have been making joint efforts to maintain and protect the sites by presenting it to the World Heritage Committee to get it included on the World Heritage List and mark its global value.

New attention

Over 7,000 kilometers and covering 27 countries, the Silk Road has played a significant role in promoting dialogues between countries in culture, trade, religion and so on. But since its abandonment, most of the sites along the road have suffered from natural and human destruction in China without being properly protected.

For example, the site of Jiaohe ancient city in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which used to be an important city on the Silk Road, was destroyed during a war in the 14th century. Since it was built of earth, it has suffered from serious weathering and is in danger of collapse. The site of Loulan ancient city, located in the desert of southeast Xinjiang, was also in danger of becoming extinct due to wind erosion and destruction by treasure hunters.

Some historical sites in other countries, including Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, were in a state of oblivion for lack of proper protection and management. Against this backdrop, UNESCO launched "Integral Study of the Silk Roads: Roads of Dialogue" project in 1988 to address the world value of the road as a rich common heritage of Eurasia.

The project, which consists of a series of scientific expeditions and research, revived the world's interest in the road and made including entire or parts of the Silk Road on the World Heritage List possible.

In 2006, China and five Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan began the job of putting the Silk Road on the list, promoted by UNESCO. In 2011, the first phrase of two lines was decided. One concerns China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for the Tianshan heritage corridor. The three countries are expected to submit the final dossiers by next month as the first step. 

"The Silk Road has made an extraordinary contribution to the common development of human society. Making it a World Heritage will help protect the numerous and rich relics along the path and further promote the communication and cooperation between nations along the line," an official with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) surnamed Tong told the Global Times.

Transnational job

SACH, the ministry of culture and information of Kazakhstan and the ministry of culture and tourism of Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement about the transnational nomination in Beijing last May in the first meeting of the coordinating committee for nomination of the initiating terminal and Tianshan corridor section of the Silk Road.

According to Tong, the working groups from the three countries have held three meetings to discuss the application, monitoring and management of the tentative sites. "Based on sufficient discussion and study, we have reached an agreement on the main content of the nomination dossier for the preliminary review and final dossiers," said Tong. She added that the dossier for the preliminary review of the three countries have been submitted to the World Heritage Center last September.

As UNESCO suggested, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan plan to submit the final dossiers to UNESCO before February 1st with the hope that it will be submitted to the World Heritage Committee for examination and to be listed in 2014. At present, the workgroups of the three countries are making the final check of the dossiers.

Among the over 7,000 kilometers of the Silk Road sections, over 4,000 kilometers are in China. The Chinese government has placed great emphasis on protecting the relics along the road since the 1980s. It also listed the sections of the Silk Road in China on the preparatory list of World Cultural Heritage in 1994. Since the project was initiated in 2006, the central government has drastically increased financial support for the protection of important relics along the route.

Tong revealed to the Global Times that a total of 22 sites in China will be recommended this time, an adjustment down from the previous 24. It covers six provinces and autonomous regions including Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang, with major sites such as the relics of Chang'an city in Han (206BC-220AD) and Tang (618-907) dynasties, the relics of Luoyang city in Sui (581-618) and Tang dynasties and the site of Loulan ancient city.

"There is no exact number of the sites in China yet," said Tong. "The 22 sites selected are consistent with the sites nominated in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan geographically. Most of them are key sites under national protection and managed well."

Kazakhstan will nominate eight objects in the Semirechye section of the Silk Road along the Tian-shan Mountain, according to Dmitriy Voyakin, regional facilitator for the project in Almaty. It includes Antonovka ancient settlement - medieval Kayalyk, Talgar ancient settlement, Kulan ancient settlement, which are important sites on the Silk Road dating back from the 6th to 13th centuries and earlier.

Kyrgyzstan will nominate three archaeological sites in the Chuy Valley in the north of Kyrgyzstan, including City of Suyab (Ak-Beshim), City of Balasagun (Burana) and City of Nevaket (Krasnaya Rechka). Ainura Tentieva, member of the international working group on the nomination in Kyrgyzstan, told the Global Times the nomination dossier has already been compiled and they are now conducting the final check.

Bitter first
The model of nominating cultural roads as world heritage sites is new and this is a first for China. Also, it is the first transnational nomination of so large a scale in history and that means great difficulties.

Jing Feng, an official with UNESCO's World Heritage Center, said the transnational application provides good opportunities for cooperation between countries and regions.

Tentieva told the Global Times that the project helps all the participating countries to better understand the Silk Road through mutual scientific and cultural exchange. "Since the initial project started in 2006, Kyrgyzstan has definitely enhanced communication and coordination with China and Kazakhstan in terms of relic protection."

But it also means great difficulties. It is reported that the deadline for China and the five Central Asian countries to submit the final dossiers had to be postponed several times. "A new deadline would be proposed in every meeting, but it was always delayed," Tang Wei, director of World Heritage Department of SACH, once told media.

Jing said the job went slowly because it is a very complicated project and the basis for application in these countries is uneven. "World Heritage Centre can only push the process. The concrete job relies on the coordination between different governments."

Since the three countries are from different cultures, the working groups need to overcome hurdles caused by language, geographical and cultural differences in the coordination. "The challenge is, the three teams are working separately, which causes some extra load on communication: double, triple translation, mailing, and so on," said Tentieva, "but we overcome this in the project."

While preparing the final dossiers, working groups of the three countries are busy pushing forward the job of monitoring, protecting the relics and the environmental renovation around them. The work must be finished before June because a group of international experts will visit every site to evaluate and examine them between July and August.

 "Regulations regarding the protection and management of the relics have been compiled in every site," said Tong. "They also have enhanced the monitoring and exhibition of the relics and interprovincial communication and coordination to secure the authenticity and integrity of the Silk Road sites."

Sweet later

The general process goes smooth in each country, but due to the long history and the large scale of these sites, challenges remain in terms of identification, preservation and management. Voyakin told the Global Times that it takes a huge investment of manpower and time to manage every step of the project.

Another difficulty is to mark the border and the buffer zones. He said most sites in Kazakhstan are surrounded by residences or are being used in some other way. They need to persuade the people to leave, if necessary, or sign agreements with them asking them to be careful around the sites nearby. "We cannot simply ask them to leave," Voyakin said, "We need to be careful and flexible."

The working group in China faces similar challenges. Wang Ge, director of the sites protection office in Luoyang, said the nominated sites in Luoyang cover over 10 square kilometers and the main site is in the countryside. It covers three administrative regions, and has resulted in overloading coordination and management resources.

"As to the surrounding farmland, there is consideration of establishing a ruins park and ecological or sight-seeing agriculture," she said, "[the plan should] consider both the protection of the sites and the farmers' interests."

In spite of the tedious and hard process, the prospects of the project are obviously bright to Tong and her counterparts in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. "If the nomination succeeds, it will not only enhance the protection and management of Silk Road relics and the management of other relics, but also promote sustainable and harmonious development of the local society and economy."

"We hope it will attract more tourists to visit the ancient Silk Road and boost the economic development for Kazakhstan," said Voyakin. "The money can be used for the future protection of these sites."

He added that the New Silk Road, the Eurasian Continental Bridge that travels through over 40 countries and regions in Central Asia and Europe, basically overlaps sections of the ancient Silk Road. "It is amazing. The monuments lie along the new road, uttering cultural voices along the road that connects China and other countries' economic relationship today."

 Since the transnational project started, it has attracted increasing international attention. The participating countries have increased from the initial China plus five Central Asian countries to over 10 other countries, including Japan, India, Iran and Afghanistan.