Saturday, 20 September 2008

New light on invasion Vietnam by Kublai Khan

The following press release was issued this June 2008 by Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia:

Maritime archaeologists from Flinders University hope to shed new light on a fierce 13th century battle fought by the Vietnamese against the invading fleet of China’s emperor Kublai Khan.

A recent visit to Vietnam by Associate Professor Mark Staniforth and Flinders PhD student Jun Kimura viewed areas that still contain the remnants of the pointed stakes that were fixed into the riverbed and along the banks by the Dai Viet defenders.

Vietnamese general Tran Hung Dao defended the mouth and lower reaches of the Bach Dang River, which at the time connected the coast with the capital of Hanoi, by filling expanses of the estuary with the stakes, with the aim of holing or trapping Chinese vessels as the tide fell.

Associate Professor Staniforth said that he and Jun Kimura are keen to be involved in fieldwork that will map the extent and shape of the stake fields, in a bid to provide insights into the Dai Viet strategy and the likely course of the battle. Their work may also point to the likely location of the wrecks of Chinese ships.

With a view to setting up the proposed project for 2009, Associate Professor Staniforth discussed possible collaborations in Vietnam with Dr James Delgado, the CEO and President of the US-based Institute for Nautical Archaeology (INA). Jun Kimura has made initial contact with Vietnamese government’s Institute of Archaeology seeking their collaboration in the project.

Contemporary accounts of the battle in 1288 relate that large numbers of a massive fleet of Chinese junks were destroyed. Even allowing for exaggeration by the victors, the battle was decisive, and Associate Professor Staniforth said that once the dimensions of the stake fields have been fixed, there is a good possibility that remote sensing techniques may be used to find wrecked Chinese vessels.

While in Vietnam, Associate Professor Staniforth and Jun Kimura also assisted in an INA project, initiated by INA research associate Randall Sasaki, to record and assess a pair of historic anchors. Locals retrieved the seagoing anchor and mooring anchor, both made of wood and reinforced with iron and rope, from the Red River near Hanoi.

Associate Professor Staniforth said that the state of preservation and comparisons with other examples and historical drawings suggests that the anchors date from the 18th or 19th centuries rather than the medieval period, but that carbon dating would settle the matter.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Kublai Khan's Lost Fleet and In Little Need of Divine Intervention

In 2001 a book by Thomas D. Conlan was published which deals with the invasion of Japan by the forces of Kublai Khan. This book, In Little Need of Divine Intervention presents a fundamental revision of the thirteenth-century Mongol Invasions of Japan by revealing that the warriors of medieval Japan were capable of fighting the Mongols to a standstill without the aid of any "divine winds" or kamikaze. Conlan's interpretation of the invasions is supplemented with translations of the picture scrolls commissioned by Takezaki Suenaga, a warrior who fought against the Mongols. In addition, translations of nearly seventy administrative documents are provided, thereby enabling students of Japanese history reconstruct the invasions using contemporary sources. A rare copy of Takezaki Suenaga's Scrolls, reproduced in full, reveals hitherto unknown missing scenes. Furthermore, the scrolls' images can be now read in tandem with its narrative passages, translated in English for the first time. Please note that the entire book was intentionally printed from back to front, so that the reproduced scrolls unfold in Japanese order, from right to left. Thus the book's spine is on the right. This monograph will prove to be of great interest for students and scholars of medieval Japanese history, warrior culture, and the nature of Japan in an East Asian context. Seven hundred years ago the world was dominated by one superpower, the Mongol Empire. Only one conquest still eluded their leader, Khublai Khan - the mystical islands of Japan. To seal his place in history, he constructed the biggest invasion force the world has ever seen, a fleet of more than 4,400 ships. But at this pivotal moment in world-history the fleet vanished without a trace. What force destroyed the Mongol armada? Was it the legendary Japanese samurai? Human error? Or a natural disaster of catastrophic proportions? Now a Japanese marine archaeologist believes he has found the Mongol fleet. With an array of the latest marine forensic technology, he is revealing chilling new insights into the events of that fateful day. Can science finally solve the mystery of Khublai Khan's Lost Fleet?«

If you want to find out more about this subject, watch the documentary Kublai Khan's Lost Fleet !!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Chinese Handscrolls

Chinese Handscrolls are among the most beautiful items of art, both for their finesse and detail and for their size and abundance of information about life and customs in general at the time that they were made.
At the other hand they are quite unknown to the general public.
This has to do with the fact that they are in a way quite rare and seldom available to the general public for viewing.

In 2006 in Musee Guimet in Paris there was a brilliant exhibition, called The Very Rich Hours of the Court of China / Masterpieces of Qing Imperial Painting .
At this exhibition some of the masterpieces of Chinese Handscrolls were assembled for viewing by the general public.

On the web, there are a few sites dedicated to the subject of Chinese Handscrolls (see further on this weblog).
A very good introduction to the phenomenom of the Chinese Handscrolls however, one can find at the site of the Metropolotan Museum of Art in New York .
The main story from this site by Dawn Delbanco from the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University you will find reproduced below:

Story by Dawn Delbanco of the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
A significant difference between Eastern and Western painting lies in the format. Unlike Western paintings, which are hung on walls and continuously visible to the eye, most Chinese paintings are not meant to be on constant view but are brought out to be seen only from time to time. This occasional viewing has everything to do with format.
A predominant format of Chinese painting is the handscroll, a continuous roll of paper or silk of varying length on which an image has been painted, and which, when not being viewed, remains rolled up. Ceremony and anticipation underlie the experience of looking at a handscroll. When in storage, the painting itself is several layers removed from immediate view, and the value of a scroll is reflected in part by its packaging. Scrolls are generally kept in individual wooden boxes that bear an identifying label. Removing the lid, the viewer may find the scroll wrapped in a piece of silk, and, unwrapping the silk, encounters the handscroll bound with a silken cord that is held in place with a jade or ivory toggle. After undoing the cord, one begins the careful process of unrolling the scroll from right to left, pausing to admire and study it, shoulder-width section by section, rerolling a section before proceeding to the next one.

The experience of seeing a scroll for the first time is like a revelation. As one unrolls the scroll, one has no idea what is coming next: each section presents a new surprise. Looking at a handscroll that one has seen before is like visiting an old friend whom one has not seen for a while. One remembers the general appearance, the general outlines, of the image, but not the details. In unrolling the scroll, one greets a remembered image with pleasure, but it is a pleasure that is enhanced at each viewing by the discovery of details that one has either forgotten or never noticed before.

Looking at a handscroll is an intimate experience. Its size and format preclude a large audience, which usually is limited to one or two. Unlike the viewer of Western painting, who maintains a certain distance from the image, the viewer of a handscroll has direct physical contact with the object, rolling and unrolling the scroll at his/her own desired pace, lingering over some passages, moving quickly through others.

The format of a handscroll allows for the depiction of a continuous narrative or journey: the viewing of a handscroll is a progression through time and space—both the narrative time and space of the image, but also the literal time and distance it takes to experience the entire painting. As the scroll unfurls, so the narrative or journey progresses. In this way, looking at a handscroll is like reading a book: just as one turns from page to page, not knowing what to expect, one proceeds from section to section; in both painting and book, there is a beginning and an end.

Indeed, this resemblance is not incidental. The handscroll format—as well as other Chinese painting formats—displays an intimacy between word and image. Many handscrolls contain inscriptions preceding or following the image: poems composed by the painter or others that enhance the meaning of the image, or a few written lines that convey the circumstances of its creation. Many handscrolls also contain colophons, or commentary written onto additional sheets of paper or silk that follows the image itself. These may be comments written by friends of the artist or the collector; they may have been written by viewers from later generations. The colophons may comment on the quality of the painting, express the rhapsody (rarely the disenchantment) of the viewer, give a biographical sketch of the artist, place the painting within an art-historical context, or engage with the texts of earlier colophons. And as a final way of making their presence known, the painter, the collectors, the one-time viewers often "sign" the image or colophons with personal seals bearing their names, these red marks of varying size conveying pride of authorship or ownership.

Thus the handscroll is both painted image and documentary history; past and present are in continuous dialogue. Looking at a scroll with colophons and inscriptions, a viewer sees not only a pictorial representation but witnesses the history of the painting as it is passed down from generation to generation.

Dawn Delbanco
Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University

Citation for this page

Delbanco, Dawn. "Chinese Handscrolls". In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (April 2008)

Suggested Further Reading(s) Find these publications in a library

Cahill, James. "Approaches to Chinese Painting." In Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting, by Richard M. Barnhart et al., pp. 5–12. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.
Gulik, R. H. van. Chinese Pictorial Art as Viewed by the Connoisseur. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1958.
Hearn, Maxwell K. How to Read Chinese Paintings. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

More Information on

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Silk Road Winter 2008 Issue is out

For anyone interested in subjects, related to the Silk Road, the digital magazines of the Silk Road Foundation are a MUST READ.
The New Winter Issue of 2008 has just been released:


From the Editor's Desktop: Beyond the Sensational: The Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums' "Origins of the Silk Road"

A review of the excellent exhibition of archaeological treasures from Xinjiang on display in Mannheim, Germany until June 1, 2008. Of particular interest are the numerous textiles and more generally the artifacts of daily life.

The 'Silk Roads' Concept Reconsidered: About Transfers: Transportation and Transcontinental Interactions in Prehistory,
by Hermann Parzinger

Recent archaeological finds in Eurasia are documenting the existence of significant transcontinental exchange well prior to the traditional "beginnings of the Silk Roads." An important component of this exhange is to be connected with the Bronze Age Andronovo Culture in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. For the Iron Age in the first millennium BCE, some of the evidence is in the striking discoveries from Scythian burials of southern Siberia.

The Dream and the Glory: Integral Salvage of the Nanhai No. 1 Shipwreck and Its Significance,
by Xu Yongjie

The recent recovery of the Nanhai No. 1 (South China Sea No. 1) shipwreck off the coast of Guangdong Province is a landmark in Chinese marine archaeology. The "integral salvage" of this wreck, dating from the late Song Dynasty and containing a cargo of porcelain, means that the detailed archaeological work can be carried out in controlled conditions in the new Marine Silk Road Museum.

The Byzantine Element in the Turkic Gold Cup with the Tiger Handle Excavated at Boma, Xinjiang,
by Lin Ying

The striking find of early Turk Empire gold objects at Boma in the Ili Valley region of western Xinjiang in 1997 included a jewel-encrusted cup with an attached handle cast in the form of a tiger. The likely origin of this handle was the Byzantine Empire, since there was a tradition in late Roman times of the making of such feline handles for precious metalwork, and they then could have been taken to the Turks as part of the diplomatic exchange of the 6th and 7th centuries. The Turks were important contributors to exchange along the silk roads.

Xiongnu Elite Tomb Complexes in the Mongolian Altai: Results of the Mongol-American Hovd Archaeology Project, 2007,
by Bryan K. Miller, Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan, Tseveendorj Egimaa, and Christine Lee

A report on the project at Tahiltin-hotgor cemetery co-sponsored by the Silkroad Foundation and the National Museum of Mongolian History. A large ramped tomb was excavated and, perhaps of greater interest, several satellite burials and ritual lines connected with tomb complexes. The material is important for extending our understanding of the Xiongnu in an area away from the political center of their polity. By paying close attention to the satellite features of elite burials, we can learn a great deal about ritual and society.

Excavation of a Xiongnu Satellite Burial,
by Jessieca Jones and Veronica Joseph

A description of the excavation of the Satellite burial THL-25-2 at Tahiltin-hotgor cemetery, which contained the well-preserved remains of a man buried with a number of interesting artifacts.

The Tahilt Region: A Preliminary Archaeological Survey of the Tahilt Surroundings to Contextualize the Tahilt Cemeteries,
by James T. Williams

The survey of about a 40 square km area containing the Tahiltin-hotgor cemetery and many other sites dating from the Palaeolithic to the Turk periods. The article discusses survey methodology and provides an overview of the results.

Food as Culture: The Kazakh Experience,
by Alma Kunanbaeva

Food, its preparation, and the social practices surrounding its consumption provide important insights into central cultural concepts of the Kazakhs. The article discusses the food traditions and provides as well practical guidance in the preparation of some Kazakh recipes

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Marco Polo by Laurence Bergreen

One of my latest acquisitons. Although quite a number of books about this subject have been published in the last 20 years, this book is very pleasant, readable and accurate.

During the Middle Ages, most Europeans were poor peasants who never ventured more than a few miles beyond their villages. During this provincial era, Venetian merchant Marco Polo traveled almost all the known world. Like a water bug skimming across a pond, Polo journeyed to the ancient Holy Land, the Levantine, Arabia, Asia Minor, central Asia, Cathay (China), India, Southeast Asia, Africa and to other exotic lands. The captain of a Venetian ship, Polo eventually was captured by the Genoese after a brutal naval battle. He spent many long days and nights in jail describing nearly two decades of remarkable travel to fellow inmate, writer and avid note-taker Rustichello da Pisa. Polo told of serving as a trusted emissary for the fabled Kublai Khan, emperor of the Mongols. Polo's remarkable story became a hugely influential book, //The Travels of Marco Polo//. Like someone spinning a yarn of his adventures as an intergalactic warrior in the far reaches of outer space, Polo told a tale that was almost mythical - yet in most particulars absolutely true and accurate. getAbstract finds that Laurence Bergreen's fascinating biography of Polo ably describes him and his fabulous adventures in comprehensive detail and great color. You owe it to yourself to explore this delightful book.