Saturday, 31 December 2011

A reflection of China's ancient past at the Huntington

Warring mirror with riders and figures in Landscape. (Photograph by Bruce M. White)

Huntington exhibit uncovers history of intricate mirrors, their makers and owners.
From Valley Sun by Lynne Heffler, December 30, 2011

A tiny leopard frozen in mid-leap. A stalking hunter. Twining leaves, coiled dragons, interlaced serpents, swooping birds and “swirling cloud scrolls” that represent “the vital energy, or qi, of everything in the universe”:

These are some of the stunning designs to be found in “Ancient Chinese Bronze Mirrors From the Lloyd Cotsen Collection,” a major exhibition at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

Running through May 14 and organized by Huntington Curator June Li, the first-time exhibition features 87 bronze mirrors — diminutive treasures that span 3,000 years of ancient Chinese history, from the Qijia Culture (2100-1700 BC) to the Jin Dynasty of the 12th and 13th century.

These cast bronze mirrors with once-glossy polished faces are not on display merely as objects of cosmetic use and self-reflection. In fact, the star attractions are the backs of the mirrors. Even green or blue with the patina of age, the intricately decorated surfaces are alive with inscriptions, abstract and symbolic designs, mythical beings, deities, flora and fauna.

Some are lacquered and painted, others are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, glass and precious stones. Some are gilded, silvered or crafted with hammered gold.

Their use and décor can be interpreted as sacred, magical and protective as well as pragmatic. The evolution of their designs and metallurgy offers scholars a key to historical, cultural and technological changes that took place in ancient China over thousands of years.

The trade routes of the Silk Road, for instance, brought Western influences to China’s indigenous motifs and its highly developed bronze technology. Foreigners, recognizable by their clothing and facial features, began to figure into the designs. Grapevines became a popular motif.

The delicately crafted mirrors — mostly circular in shape, some square, others elaborately lobed — were the province of the wealthy, their value underscored by the fact that they were presented as diplomatic gifts and entombed with their owners.

“Bronze was a very valuable commodity,” said Huntington Curatorial Assistant Michelle Bailey. “All the mirrors you see in the exhibition would have been quite expensive. Even the smallest were owned by the elites in early China.”

Fragments of embroidered silk cloth on display demonstrate how closely textile and mirror designs were related. Finely patterned background designs in bronze appear to echo the weave of textiles, a subtlety that can be discerned because the display cases allow visitors an intimate view of these exquisite little works of art.

“The cases were custom made for the exhibition,” Bailey said, “and they’re built so that you can get close to them. We also have interior lighting in the cases as well as exterior lighting to give visitors a chance to see the sculptural quality in the designs.”

And careful scrutiny is rewarded as tiny details emerge. Look carefully at the “Moon Mirror with Birds and Dragon” from the Tang Dynasty and within the mirror’s circle shape you’ll see a little moon inhabited by a rabbit stirring a pot under a leafy cinnamon tree. The pot contains “perhaps the elixir of life,” says the display label, and the rabbit “is an endearing allusion to popular legends of immortality.”

In a nearby case, a fragment of silk embroidered with a “Cloud Scroll and Rabbit in the Moon” further demonstrates the popularity of this motif.

Many of the mirrors bear inscriptions offering good wishes to the owners or pertaining to the artisans themselves. One maker’s translated inscription is a masterpiece of self-promotion:

“The Shangfang workshop made this mirror/Which is truly great and well crafted/On its surface are the immortals/Who do not know old age/When thirsty, they drink from jade springs/And when hungry they eat jujubes/Floating, they roam the world/And ramble everywhere within the surrounding seas/What pleasure!”

These eloquent remnants of a distant past (plus a few modern copies displayed for contrast) were collected by Lloyd Cotsen, a Los Angeles-based businessman, philanthropist and noted eclectic art collector, who began accumulating them while serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

After their stay at the Huntington, the mirrors will go to the Shanghai Museum, designated as the collection’s new permanent home by Cotsen, who has previously donated other of his varied collections to such institutions as the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and Princeton University.

UCLA professor of Chinese archaeology and art history Lothar von Falkenhausen edited the impressive, companion two-volume book, “The Lloyd Cotsen Study Collection of Chinese Bronze Mirrors.” Volume one, the collection’s hardcover catalog, was authored by UC San Diego history professor Suzanne E. Cahill.

Part of the mirrors’ hold on viewers, Cahill writes, “comes from uniting contradictory elements in meaning as well as design: religious and secular concerns, the individual and the cosmos, the transient and the eternal, time and space, the living and the dead.”

Thursday, 29 December 2011

17th century Chinese coin found in the Yukon, Canada

This ancient Chinese coin may shed some light on pre-Gold Rush history in Yukon. (James Mooney/Ecofor Consulting)

CBC News November 1, 2011 Russian traders linked China with First Nations
Archeologists have unearthed a coin more than 300 years old northwest of Carmacks, Yukon, which provides a link between 17th-century China, Russian traders and First Nations people.
The find came in July as a team checked the route of a proposed mining road for the Western Copper and Gold Corporation’s planned Casino gold mine.
The Chinese coin, which is round with a square hole in the centre, helps fill in the blanks on some pre-Gold Rush history.
James Mooney, from Ecofor Consulting Ltd., and his team were doing the heritage impact assessment for the proposed mining road.
"I was less than a metre from our archeologist Kirby Booker when she turned over the first shovel of topsoil and I caught sight of something dangling from the turf. It was the coin — the neatest discovery I've ever been part of,” Mooney said.
Mooney believes there’s a logical explanation for how the coin found its way deep into the Yukon interior hundreds of years ago.

“The first documented accounts of foreigners getting into Tlingit territory were in the mid-1700s. Russian traders [were] coming in and they were collecting sea otter pelts and some of the inland furs, and they would trade things like glass beads, silks and coins,” he said.

Evidence Chinese market connected with Yukon First Nations

Ecofor Consulting archeologist Kirby Booker made the find of a lifetime when she dug up the coin. (James Mooney/Ecofor Consulting)

Heritage Canada says the coin was minted between 1667 and 1671. It says the coin adds to the body of evidence that the Chinese market connected with Yukon First Nations through Russian and coastal Tlingit trade.
Ecofor Consulting archeologist Kirby Booker made the find of a lifetime when she dug up the coin. (James Mooney/Ecofor Consulting)
This trade happened throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and possibly as early as the 15th century.
The Tlingit tightly controlled direct trade with the interior First Nations through the Chilkoot Pass, which is one of the few entry points through the Coastal Mountains to the interior.
Mooney said the location of the find, on a bluff overlooking a river and creek source, is a likely place for a traveller to have rested or camped between Dyea and Fort Selkirk.
The coin is different from others of its type because it has four additional small holes above each corner of the central square.
“The extra holes could have been made in China. Coins were sometimes nailed to a gate, door or ridgepole for good luck. Alternatively, First Nations might have made the extra holes to attach them to clothing,” said Mooney.
The coins could have been used as decoration or sewn in layers like roofing shingles onto hide shirts to protect warriors from arrows.

3rd ancient coin found in Yukon
The coins are more common along the coast, but only three have been found in Yukon.
A matrix archeologist found another one in the Kwanlin Dun region this past summer. That was dated between 1724 and 1735. An even older coin was found in 1993 by Beaver Creek, which was dated between 1403 and 1424.
The most recent find will be held with the Yukon archeological collection. Mooney and his team are recommending the road builders avoid the site and that further study be done there.

Qing royal tombs to go digital

To watch video, click HERE

Now we are going to look at the heritage of the Qing Dynasty -- the last empire in China's long history. Among the enduring legacies left by the Qing emperors are the eastern Royal Tombs in Hebei Province, which took 247 years to complete.
Now, the ancient site is going digital. Through a joint project by Historic Scotland and the China Cultural Relics Bureau, everyone from researchers to the mildly curious can soon enjoy a digital record of this world-renowned cultural heritage.
The Scotish team will focus on the Xiao Tomb of Shunzhi and Jing Tomb of Kangxi. Shunzhi was the first emperor since the Manchu Army conquered the all of China. His son, Kangxi, spent more time on the Chinese throne than anyone else with a 61-year reign. The tombs will undergo a comprehensive scanning in order to build a detailed digital model. Thus enough data will be available for remote access and educational projects.
Alex Salmond, Scotland First Minister, said, "This is a big challenge, a representation of Chinese culture."
Eastern Tombs of the Qing Dynasty is the largest royal tomb cluster discovered thus far. 580 detached architectures stand in an area of 48 square kilometers. It takes a visitor at least two days to cover the whole sight. However, with the help of digital modeling, one can stay indoors to appreciate it on-line.

Eastern Tombs of the Qing Dynasty is the largest royal tomb cluster discovered thus far.

Zhao Yingjian, deputy director of Tourism Management Committee, said, "It helps us know more about the history and the value of architecture and sculptures. It is significant for cultural communication."
The project will use the same kind of laser technology that has been applied to other world cultural heritages like the Queen Well in India and Mount Rushmore in the U.S.

Tomb reveals life of nobles

In a suburb of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province, there is a tomb complex that archaeologists found in 2007 with 14 separate units. Unfortunately, the researchers were not the first to discover the site. Over time, some significant findings have come out of the site. To watch a video, click HERE
In 2008, excavation of the site began in earnest and researchers discovered that only one tomb out of the total 14 had remained unspoiled by looters. Thus far, Archaeologists have determined that the tombs date back to the Western Han dynasty about 2000 year ago, and that they belong to the nobleman, Zhang Shi’an, an important courtier in the Western Han Dynasty.

In April of this year, the only non-plundered tomb, called M1, was excavated. The wooden coffin in M1’s chamber had collapsed, exposing the owners remains and precious funerary objects. Ding Yan, director of Archeological Team said: "We found some lacquers inlaid with gold and silver buttons, some small bronze wares and coins."

What surprises archaeologists is the garment covering the body in this tomb. After some cleaning, some patterns and designs can be seen on the cloth, which is very rare in a tomb over 2000 years old. Researchers believe this may be the daughter-in-law of Zhang Shi’an, but they still need further proof. Even so, they find this tomb very meaningful, because it shows the fashionable life she lead and her treatment after death.

Source: CNTV [December 19, 2011]

Ancient price tomb found in Xi'an

To watch the video click HERE

Recently the Xi'an Cultural Relics Protection Institute excavated a tomb complex in a western suburb of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province, and ancient capital of China.

The 18 tombs date back to the Tang Dynasty, some 1200 years ago. According to researchers, the tombs belong to a prince from a Turkic clan, which was a minority group located in the area during the Western Tang Dynasty.

Archaeologists have unearthed many funerary objects such as figurines, including a rare kneeling eunuch figurine.

The reason this Turkic prince was buried in Xi'an is because during that period the prince was held hostage in the central Tang territory in order to keep the peace.

Recently the Xi'an Cultural Relics Protection Institute excavated a to

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

One Hundred Geese attributed to Ma Fen

In this 15 foot long handscroll attributed to Ma Fen, the viewer can enjoy 100 geese, painted in shades of gray and black ink, moving through a misty marsh.

The Night Banquet: A Chinese Scroll Through Time

The Night Banquet: A Chinese Scroll Through Time
By De-nin Deanne Lee

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: University of Washington Press (25 Mar 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0295990724

The tenth-century Chinese handscroll The Night Banquet of Han Xizai (attributed to tenth-century artist Gu Hongzheng), long famous for its depiction of a decadent party hosted by a government official, is used by De-nin Lee to explore how art objects are created and the many sociopolitical eras and individual hands through which they pass. By the tenth or eleventh century, and in earnest by the thirteenth, viewers of Chinese paintings lodged their responses to a work of art directly on the object itself, in the form of seals, inscriptions and colophons. The scrawls and markings may amount to distractions for the seasoned admirer of European easel painting, but Lee explains that a handscroll painting without its complement of textual accretions loses its very history. Through her deft detective work, we watch the Night Banquet handscroll-much like the enigmatic seventeenth-century Cremonese instrument in Francois Girard's film The Red Violin-travel through the centuries from owner to owner and viewer to viewer, influencing and being influenced by the people who contemplate it and add their thoughts, signatures and seals to its borders. Treating the scroll as a co-creation of painter and viewers, Lee tells a fascinating story of cultural practices surrounding Chinese paintings. In effect, her book addresses a question central to art history: What is the role of art in a society? De-nin Lee is assistant professor of art and Asian studies at Bowdoin College in Maine.

"A tour-de-force of historical scholarship, The Night Banquet is an engaging narrative that at times reads like a detective novel. Lee investigates every individual who saw, wrote on, or commented about the scroll and she leads the reader on an enticing journey of discovery that provides both an overview of Chinese history and an in-depth reading of this extraordinary work of art."-Ankeney Weitz, Colby College "Lee has been immensely successful in her quest to uncover the history and changing significance of the Han Xizai scroll, detailing what a spectrum of career officials, connoisseurs, collectors and emperors had to say about it-sometimes disapproving of the subject matter as licentious and immoral, sometimes considering it a vehicle for comment on current political situations. A masterful study, rooted in extensive original research, rich in detail and interpretation, The Night Banquet is a major contribution to the study of Chinese painting and to Chinese culture in general."-Ellen Johnston Laing, University of Michigan

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Seals, Sealings and Tokens from Gandhara

Seals, Sealings and Tokens from Gandhara
by Aman ur Rahman and Harry Falk

Hardcover: 238 pages
Publisher: Reichert Verlag (15 Aug 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 3895008192

Ancient seals say much about people, their names, preferred styles and self-esteem. Over many decades Aman ur Rahman has built a large collection of seals from North-Western Pakistan, which were produced during Hellenistic times up to the Guptas. He classifies them and explains their pictorial content, while Harry Falk, a professor of Indology at Berlin, reads all epigraphs in Kharosthi and Brahmi and provides an introduction on the scribal aspects.

Das Werk präsentiert über tausend Siegel, Siegelabdrücke und Verwandtes aus Gandhara aus der Zeit des Hellenismus bis zu den Guptas. Die Sammlung Aman ur Rahmans findet sich durchweg in Farbe wiedergegeben, wie auch die Sammlungen der Museen in Taxila und Peshawar. Harry Falk bietet eine schrift- und kulturgeschichtliche Einleitung, mit Schwerpunkten bei den Kulten der Bhima aus der Höhle Kashmir Smast und den Lesungen aller Epigramme in indischen und griechischen Schriften verbunden mit einer namenskundlichen Analyse.

The Silk Road: A New History

The Silk Road: A New History
by Valerie Hansen

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Oxford Univ Press (2 Aug 2012)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0195159314

The Silk Road is as iconic in world history as the Colossus of Rhodes or the Suez Canal. But what was it, exactly? It conjures a hazy image of a caravan of camels laden with silk on a dusty desert track, reaching from China to Rome. The reality was different, and far more interesting, as revealed in this new history.

In The Silk Road, Valerie Hansen describes the remarkable archaeological finds that revolutionize our understanding of these trade routes. For millennia, key records remained hidden--often deliberately buried by bureaucrats for safe keeping. But the sands of the Taklamakan Desert have revealed fascinating material, sometimes preserved by illiterate locals who recycled official documents to make insoles for shoes or garments for the dead. Hansen explores seven oases along the road, from northwest China to Samarkand, where merchants, envoys, pilgrims, and travelers mixed in cosmopolitan communities, tolerant of religions from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism. Hansen notes that there was no single, continuous road, but a chain of markets that traded between east and west. China and the Roman Empire had very little direct trade. China's main partners were the peoples of modern-day Iran, whose tombs in China reveal much about their Zoroastrian beliefs. Hansen writes that silk was not the most important good on the road; paper, invented in China before Julius Caesar was born, had a bigger impact in Europe, while metals, spices, and glass were just as important as silk. Perhaps most significant of all was the road's transmission of ideas, technologies, and artistic motifs.

The Silk Road is a fascinating story of archeological discovery, cultural transmission, and the intricate chains across Central Asia and Southeast Asia.
About the Author
Valerie Hansen is Professor of History at Yale University. Her books include The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China: How Ordinary People Used Contracts, 600-1400, and Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127-1276, and co-author of Voyages in World History.

The Silk Roads: A Brief History with Documents

The Silk Roads: A Brief History with Documents
By Xinru Liu

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (18 May 2012)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0312475519

Product Description
This thoughtful introduction examines the many ways in which the peoples along the Silk Roads interacted and considers the implications for economies and societies as well as political and religious institutions. The book contains a range of primary material, some of which has been translated into English for the first time.

'What is very helpful about Liu's collection is that it combines a well-organized, concise overview of the pre-modern Silk Road with documents from all across ancient Eurasia, instead of just China or the Greco-Roman world. The new translations of individuals' letters from the Tarim Basin area are quite cool.' - Shoshana Keller, Hamilton College, USA

Chinese scientists finish sequencing Genghis Khan descendant's genome

HOHHOT, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Scientists said on Sunday that they have finished sequencing the genome of a direct descendant of Genghis Khan.

Zhou Huanmin, project leader and head of the biological research lab at the Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, said Sunday that this was the first individual genome sequencing of a Mongolian.

The blood donator was a male only identified as one of Genghis Khan's 34th-generation offspring from the Sunit Tribe, which is based in the Xilingol league (prefecture) in Inner Mongolia.

Zhou said the research team will continue to sequence the genomes of another 199 ethnic Mongolians and build a database consisting of Mongolian genetic code.

Zhou said the results of the genome mapping are important for the detection of ethnicity-specific genome inheritances and the evolutionary features of Mongolians, and will also contribute to medical research linked to the control of certain diseases.

There are about 10 million ethnic Mongolians living around the world, mainly in China's Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regions and Qinghai province, as well as the Republic of Mongolia and Russia.

For more information, read this article in Discover Magazine

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Prosperous Cities: A Selection of Paintings from the Liaoning Provincial Museum

The Prosperous Cities: This is about an exhibition in 2009 but the scrolls are so beautiful!!

A Selection of Paintings from the Liaoning Provincial Museum
2009.09.25 - 11.22
Hong Kong Museum of Art
Special Exhibition Gallery (1), 2/F

Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and
the Liaoning Provincial Museum
Jointly organised by the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Liaoning Provincial Museum

A Celebration Programme of the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the PRC

This exhibition features 15 paintings from the Ming (13681644) and Qing (16441911) dynasties, on the unique theme of prosperous cities, from the collection of the Liaoning Provincial Museum. Most of the exhibits, once prized possessions of the Qing emperor Qianlong, are representative works in the history of painting. Offering an insight into China's urban wealth during the Ming and Qing periods, they include significant paintings such as Along the River during the Qingming Festival by Qiu Ying (ca.1494ca.1552) of the Ming dynasty, Ten Views of West Lake by Wang Yuanqi (16421715) and Prosperous Suzhou by Xu Yang (1712ca. 1777) of the Qing dynasty.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the handscroll by Xu Yang, a Qing court painter during the reign of Qianlong. Completed in 1759 during Qianlong's second Southern Inspection Tour, the scroll painting provides a panoramic but extraordinarily detailed view of 18th century Suzhou. In it, Xu painstakingly depicts people from all walks of life from fishermen, woodcutters and tillers to merchants, literati and civil officers as well as Suzhou's fascinating scenery, in which many prosperous aspects of the city during the High Qing era are emphasised.

Gov't eyes seabed with 13th century Mongol wreck as historic site

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Agency for Cultural Affairs plans to seek the designation as a national historical site the seabed off Nagasaki Prefecture in southwestern Japan where the wreck of a ship believed to have been used by 13th-century Mongol invaders has been found, agency sources said Wednesday.

If realized, the area off Takashima Island in Matsuura, Nagasaki, will be the first underwater ruins to be registered. Designation as a historic site would in principle prohibit the existing state in the area to be altered.

The agency saw the need to take immediate protection measures in the area given that relics there are expected to provide archeologists with crucial information on the 1274 and 1281 Mongol attacks that, until the recent discovery of the relatively intact shipwreck, has mostly been available only from historical documents and drawings.

The move came after the Matsuura education board submitted a report to the agency in July calling for the designation of some 384,000 square meters in the area, including where the sunken ship was found, as a national historical site. The board said academic research is still ongoing in the area and that no decision has been made on whether to raise the submerged wreck.

The failure of the two attacks launched by Mongol leader Kublai Khan (1215-1294) against Japan, with battles fought in northern Kyushu, is often attributed in Japan to "kamikaze" divine winds that destroyed much of the Mongol fleets.

The waters around Takashima Island are known for discoveries of the scattered wrecks. In October, a research team of the University of the Ryukyus said it has found a wreck with much of the hull still intact, including a 12-meter-long section of the keel.

In accordance with procedures for designating cultural properties, the agency will first consult with the Council for Cultural Affairs on the matter.

(Mainichi Japan) December 8, 2011

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China

"Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China" at HK Central Library

Precious ancient rare books and special collections from the National Library of China (NLC), which has the world's largest collection of Chinese documents, will be on display from December 9 to January 15 at the Exhibition Gallery of the Hong Kong Central Library (HKCL).

Items on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China" include 12 original pieces such as a "Zhaocheng Jin Zang" (Zhaocheng Jin Tripitaka) scroll from the Jin dynasty; "Shizhu Zhai Shuhua Pu" (The Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Paintings), "Zhang Shenzhi Xiansheng Zheng Bei Xixiang Miben" (Story of the Western Chamber Revised by Zhang Shenzhi), "Shuo Wen Jie Zi" (Annotations of Chinese Characters) and "Yuanqu Xuan Tu" (Illustrations from Selected Yuan Dramas) from the Ming dynasty; "Yuzhi Guwen Yuanjian" (Anthology of Ancient Essays, Imperial Edition) from the Qing dynasty; and a palm-leaf manuscript of "Narrative Verses of Sariputta from the Abhidhamma-Pitaka" in Dai script from the 19th century.

Officiating at the opening ceremony (December 8) at the HKCL were the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing; the former Vice Minister of Culture and Director of the NLC, Mr Zhou Heping; the Deputy Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Mr Li Gang; the Deputy Director-General of the Department of Publicity, Cultural and Sports Affairs of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR, Mr Liu Hanqi; the Chairman of the Public Libraries Advisory Committee, Professor John Leong; and the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mrs Betty Fung.

"Yudi Tu" (Map of Imperial Territories), one of the finest extant samples of Ming maps to show political and administrative divisions, is one of exhibits on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China".

The exhibition, jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the NLC and organised by the Hong Kong Public Libraries, is one of the key events to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the HKCL. It aims to display the rich and varied cultural heritage of China and the NLC's contributions in heritage conservation and restoration.

The 42 exhibits on display are some of the precious treasures in the NLC's vast holdings. They consist of "shanben" (rare books), Dunhuang documents, ancient maps and atlases, epigraphical and pictorial rubbings and texts and illustrations from China's ethnic minorities, and feature a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from religion, literature, geography and medicine to art and technology of ancient China.

"Shanben" refers to ancient books with high heritage, artistic and academic value. The original pieces on display include the precious surviving set of "Zhaocheng Jin Zang" (Zhaocheng Jin Tripitaka) from the Jin dynasty; "Shizhu Zhai Shuhua Pu" (The Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Paintings), which is regarded as the earliest colour painting manual in China; the first genuine Chinese dictionary, "Shuo Wen Jie Zi" (Annotations of Chinese Characters); "Zhang Shenzhi Xiansheng Zheng Bei Xixiang Miben" (Story of the Western Chamber Revised by Zhang Shenzhi), the artworks of which represent the distinctive woodblock printing techniques of China in the 17th century; "Yuanqu Xuan Tu" (Illustrations from Selected Yuan Dramas) of the Ming dynasty, a significant document for research on Yuan plays; and "Yuzhi Guwen Yuanjian" (Anthology of Ancient Essays, Imperial Edition) from the Qing dynasty, featuring a comprehensive anthology of classical prose literature from ancient times to the Song dynasty.

Other "shanben" original pieces are "Xinbian Mulian Jiumu Quanshan Xiwen" (New Compilation of the Play Scripts about Mulian Rescuing His Mother), "Lidai Minggong Huapu" (Manual of Paintings by Famous Masters of Successive Periods) from the Ming dynasty and "Lingyange Gongchen Tu" (Portraits of Meritorious Officials from the Lingyan Pavilion) from the Qing dynasty. Some of other highlights in this collection include a large-scale encyclopaedia, "Yongle Dadian" (Yongle Encyclopaedia); "Tiangong Kaiwu" (The Exploitation of Nature Works), which has been named as one of the most important works on science and technology in the cultural history of China; "Siku Quanshu" (Complete Library of Four Treasuries), a set of books that is a comprehensive summary of Chinese ancient culture; "Shengping Shu Lianpu" (Albums of Beijing Opera Characters from the Shengping Bureau) from the Qing dynasty featuring all actors in the Beijing opera; and the earliest classic work on traditional Chinese medicine, "Huangdi Neijing Suwen" (Medical Classic of the Emperor Huangdi).

The "Zhaocheng Jin Zang" (Zhaocheng Jin Tripitaka) scroll from the Jin dynasty is one of the originals on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China".

Dunhuang documents are ancient literature found in Dunhuang and other sites in China and Central Asia. The manuscripts were mainly official documents, private letters, religious canons, Chinese classic literature and non-Chinese documents. The exhibition showcases "Lao Zi Yi Shu" (Commentary of Dao De Jing), "Bian Wang Lun" and "The Diamond Prajna-Paramita Sutra" from the Tang dynasty.

Ancient Chinese cartography has a long history. The earliest mention of a Chinese city map dates back to the 11th century BC during the early years of the Western Zhou dynasty. In ancient China, maps functioned as the territorial emblems of a state and provided concrete proof of territorial rights. They occupied a hallowed spiritual position and were also utilised for military purposes. Ancient maps also presented the layouts of famous scenic spots and the architectural plans of imperial gardens and palaces. "Yudi Tu" (Map of Imperial Territories), one of the finest extant samples of Ming maps to show political and administrative divisions, and "Bishu Shanzhuang Quantu" (Full Map of the Mountain Resort) from the Qing dynasty, featuring the imperial resort, are the epitome of this collection.

The ancient Chinese utilised the plastrons or carapaces of turtles, bones of animals, bronze, stone and other materials for engraving, incising or writing inscriptions. Rubbing is a reproduction technique achieved by placing a piece of paper or a similar material on the texts or graphics of an engraved or carved subject and making an ink print by means of rubbing. The prints, known as "taben" (rubbing edition), are of high artistic and documentary value as they are able to perfectly record the contents of the original items.

"Zhang Shenzhi Xiansheng Zheng Bei Xixiang Miben" (Story of the Western Chamber Revised by Zhang Shenzhi), which represents the distinctive woodblock printing techniques of China, is one of the originals on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China".

The rubbing exhibits include "Yinxin Shiwu Tushuo" (Illustrations of the Yinxin Stone Dwelling), an original work from the Qing dynasty; "Han Junche Huaxiang" (Illustration of a Han Dynasty Procession), which vividly portrays an important official seated in a canopied chariot; "Shence Jun Bei" (Inscription to Commemorate the Emperor's Inspection Tour to the Left-Shen-Ce Forces), a rubbing edition on the writings of the great calligrapher Liu Gongquan of the Tang dynasty; and "Lanting Xiuxi Tu" (Illustration of the Spring Purification Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion), which portrays the graceful scene of literatus Wang Xizhi having a gathering with friends.

China is a unified nation in which different ethnic groups contributed to the establishment of a splendid civilisation. The ancient scripts show the great heritage and research value in ancient language, philology, religion, literature, art, history, archaeology, astronomy, calendrical studies and medicine of these ethnic groups. Exhibits in this collection include documents in the Dai, Mongolian, Manchu, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Yi, Tangut and Dongba scripts, among which "Imperial Patent of Nobility to the Parents of Yulin" (in Manchu and Chinese scripts) from the Qing dynasty and "Narrative Verses of Sariputta from the Abhidhamma-Pitaka" (in Dai script) from the 19th century are the originals. Not to be missed are "Annals of the Creation", written in colour Dongba symbols on the ancient Naxi people's view of nature and the origins of human beings, and "Twenty-One Hymns to the Rescuer Mother of Buddhas" written in Manchu, Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese scripts in the Qing dynasty.

To complement the exhibition, the HKCL has organised two subject talks. The first one, entitled "Preservation of Ancient Books to Sustain Civilisation: Preservation and Conservation of Ancient Chinese Books and Records and the Implementation Project", will be held at 9 December ). The Director of the NLC and Director of the National Centre for Preservation and Conservation of Ancient Books, Mr Zhou Heping, will share his views on conservation of rare documents. The other talk, entitled "Bastions of Civilisation: Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China and Stories Behind the Exhibits", hosted by the Director of the Ancient Books Library of the NLC, Ms Chen Hongyan, will be held on December 10 (Saturday). Both talks, to be conducted in Putonghua, will be held at the Lecture Theatre of the HKCL.

Catalogue of this exhibition
Following a nice and inspiring review of this book on
This exhibition catalogue is a must have item for anyone who has a serious interest in China's rich textual tradition. I have already put Visible Traces on my Christmas wish list in hopes that my relatives, who have no idea why I have been studying Chinese literature and history all these years, will break down and give me something related to my life's work. And I haven't written a wish list in ages, that's how much I want a copy of this on my bookshelf. And if they don't give me a copy, I'll give one to myself as a gift once I finish my PhD.
If you didn't have an opportunity to see these rare books, maps and artefacts when they were on display in New York or Los Angeles, or if you don't feel like buying a plane ticket to visit the National Library of China in Beijing, this catalogue is an economical way to savor what you missed. The editorial review does a wonderful job of summarizing the contents, so I won't repeat that. The color photography certainly does justice to the original works. I enjoyed seeing the photographs of a 1621 manuscript on Tang poetry because it's connected to my own research, but there is something in this volume for anyone who loves Chinese culture. The reader will find scrolls of Buddhist sutras, delicate drawings of gentlemen playing the game of go, specialist monographs on the varieties of crysanthemums, illustrated manuals on goldfish, albums of Beijing opera characters, oracle bones, pictorial rubbings and multi-color maps of the Chinese empire, and more.

For the specialist the bibliography is detailed enough to start tracking down other extant copies of the items in the exhibition as well as general information to be found in secondary sources.

That said, why didn't I rate this book a 5? Only a couple reasons. Some sections of maps and charts have been magnified, and are less distinct than their smaller scale originals, which some readers will find frustrating. Every reader will have a different reason why they love this book. I wanted to be able to see the whole 1621 poetry collection. A crysanthemum connoisseur will want to see every flower illustration. Map lovers will wish that all the maps had been printed. In other words, every one will wish the book were bigger and that it covered his or her interest in more detail (even at the expense of someone else's). At 337 pages, however, it's already a large volume. After savoring each page, you may find yourself falling for some new aspect of Chinese culture and you'll realize you may have to buy that plane ticket to China after all. Visible Traces will whet your appetite, but it won't quench your thirst, which is fine because no one volume could ever contain all the glories of China's print culture. DO NOT show this catalogue to your kids, unless you are happy for them to fall in love with Chinese history and art and study for PhDs instead of becoming a lawyer or getting an MBA.

Christian art on the Silk Road

VisAsia Hingyiu Mok Mandarin language lecture 2012
Saturday 28 January 2012, 1.00pm
Duration 1 hour, 30 minutes
Location: Centenary Auditorium The Art Gallery of NSW/ Australia

From the cross on the lotus of Tang Nestorianism to the palace architecture of the Christian university campus in modern China, religious art from the West has undergone tremendous transformation since its introduction to China via the Silk Road. Join professor Gu Weimin from the Shanghai Normal University and adjunct professor Milton Wan from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in a visual art journey, spanning over a thousand years, from Rome to Beijing, and discover the inter-faith merging of Christian, Buddhist and Muslim arts along the way.

NOTE: This lecture is delivered in Mandarin language only.

This event is part of the 2012 City of Sydney Chinese New Year Festival, celebrating the Year of the Dragon.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Tangut in Tibetan

The most recent article by Andrew west in Babelstone !!

Perhaps the core problem of Tangutology, which has directly and indirectly involved most of the effort of most Tangutolgists most of the time, has been the reconstruction of the pronunciation of the extinct Tangut language. Modern reconstructions of Tangut are largely based on the evidence provided by a few surviving Tangut lexico-phonological works such as the Homophones and the Sea of Writing, although the phonetic glossing of Tangut characters by means of Chinese characters in the Pearl in the Palm has also provided important evidence for the pronunciation of Tangut. However, it is necessary to first reconstruct the pronunciation of 11th century Chinese before the Chinese glosses can be used to try to reconstruct the pronunciation of the corresponding Tangut characters, and furthermore, as Chinese characters are notoriously incapable of accurately representing the phonetic systems of other languages, even if the pronunciation of the Chinese characters can be accurately reconstructed, they may only give an approximation of the actual Tangut pronunciation. For these reasons, phonetic glosses in Chinese characters are inferior to phonetic glosses given in phonetic scripts such as Tibetan or Phags-pa. Luckily for us, a number of Tangut Buddhist manuscripts with phonetic transcriptions of Tangut characters in the Tibetan script are known, and have been the subject of considerable interest to Tangutologists ever since the existence of such manuscripts was first reported by Nevsky in 1926.

I recently started a project to transcribe the known Tangut-Tibetan manuscripts and collate the readings of the Tibetan glosses by various scholars. So far I have only covered the five Tangut-Tibetan manuscripts collected from the Tangut fortress city of Khara-Khoto by Aurel Stein during his expedition of 1913–1916, and now held at the British Library in London. Thanks to the wonderful International Dunhuang Project these manuscripts are available online for all to see. The following pages are currently available, but I hope to add more manuscripts next year :

Index of Tangut characters with corresponding Tibetan phonetic glosses
Index of Tibetan phonetic glosses with corresponding Tangut characters

As I have only just started this project, it would be premature to attempt an analysis of the way Tibetan is used to represent Tangut pronunciation in these manuscripts, but it is worth making a few general observations.

Firstly, many of the manuscripts are in poor condition, with tattered edges and tears, resulting in many illegible or only partially legible Tangut characters and Tibetan glosses. The poor legibility is exacerbated by the often hard to read Tangut and Tibetan handwriting used in these manuscripts. The Tibetan glosses are particularly difficult (for me at least) to read as they are generally written in an untidy, cursive, headless script in which many letterforms are very similar to other letterforms (e.g. the letters ng ང, d ད and ra ར all look almost identical in some hands), and without context it can be difficult to be sure exactly what letters are intended. For this reason, in many cases the identification of the Tibetan gloss can only be determined with certainty by reference to the reconstructed reading of the corresponding Tangut character. Thus the Tibetan gloss for the 3rd character of the 1st line of Or.12380/3495 looks identical to the Tibetan gloss for the 3rd character of the 1st line of Or.12380/1842, and they could both potentially be ngu, du or ru. In the case of Or.12380/3495 Tai Chung Pui reads it as ru because it fits the Tangut reconstruction of L5130 (*rjur), but in the case of Or.12380/1842 Tai Chung Pui reads it as ngu because it fits the Tangut reconstruction of L0508 (*ŋwu), whereas in the latter case Berthold Laufer, who in 1928 did not have any reconstruction of the Tangut text to refer to, reads it as du.

Secondly, Tibetan is a writing system that is particularly well-equipped to represent a wide range of phonetic values, and we could hope for a very accurate transcription of Tangut pronunciation using the Tibetan script. However, this does not seem to be the case. Although most Tibetan glosses do approximately correspond to the modern phonetic reconstructions of the corresponding Tangut characters, the correspondence is disappointingly poor, with only a very few characters showing an exact correspondence between Tangut reconstruction and Tibetan transcription (e.g. L2098 "I, me" which is reconstructed *ŋa and glossed ŋa ... which also happens to be the Tibetan word for "I, me"). In most cases the Tibetan glosses miss out what should be essential phonetic features, for example transcribing *mja as ma, *ŋwu as ŋu, *ɣjɨ̣ as rgi, *war as wa, *lew as li, and *lhjwịj as lhi. Either the modern reconstructions of Tangut are seriously flawed (a possibility I can't reject) or the Tibetan scribes were content to provide a very approximate representation of Tangut, so approximate that it is hard to imagine that a Tangut speaker could have understood much that a Tibetan reading the Tibetan transcriptions of Tangut was saying. So what was the purpose of the Tibetan transcriptions? My theory is that they were intended for Tibetan monks to be able to chant in unison with their Tangut colleagues, not knowing what they were chanting or needing to chant perfectly, but just vaguely correct enough to be able to chant along without sticking out like a sore thumb. Maybe the Tibetan monks who made the transcriptions did not speak a word of Tangut, and they just wrote down what they thought they heard, which would explain why the transcriptions are so imprecise.

Thirdly, the Tibetan glosses utilise prefix letters (g, d, b, m and ') and superfixed letters (s, r and l) in a way that suggests they might have been intended to indicate a particular pronunciation of the corresponding Tangut character, but it is not immediately obvious what this might have been (it has been sugegsted that these nominally silent letters may have been intended to represent tone in Tangut, but I am not convinced), and they are used inconsistently (e.g. L1245 ·jij is glossed as either ye or Likewise, the glosses frequently use a final letter -'a, seemingly to indicate a long vowel, but again it is used inconsistently (e.g. L1278 ·jɨ is glossed as either g.yi or g.yi'). Perhaps the oddest feature of the Tibetan transcriptions is the use of prefix letters in front of letters that do not allow prefix letters in standard Tibetan orthography, for example d.wi དཝི and' གརུའ. This feature occurs across different manuscripts, and could suggest that the scribes were actually using a formally defined orthography for transcribing Tangut, and not just putting down what they could hear, as I suggested above.

Professor Li Narangoa - Mongolian language, culture and studies at ANU

Professor Li Narangoa Introduces The Australian National University's new Mongolia Studies Centre, some common Mongolian phrases and some things you may not know about the country.

The first centre of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, the centre in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific will enhance growing Australian interest in Mongolia as well as strengthen the increased links between the two countries. It will host guest researchers working on Mongolia, organise seminars on Mongolian topics, provide a support network for Australian researchers on Mongolia and promote Mongolian studies in Australia in general.

The launch of the Mongolia Studies Centre coincides with the Mongolian Studies Open Conference which brings scholars from around the world to examine the country's history, culture, anthropology, international relations, business and archaeology. More information and a full program is available at

Friday, 23 December 2011

Archaeologists starts to unearth ancient tombs in Fanchang, China's Anhu

An archaeological staff member measures an ancient tomb discovered in Xin'gang Township, Fanchang County, east China's Anhui Province, Dec. 22, 2011. Archaeologists on Thursday started to unearth a group of ancient tombs discovered in a construction site in Xin'gang Township of Anhui Province. The tombs were believed to be of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. (Xinhua/Yang Hua)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Lyrics as literature

Ohio State professor offers new perspective on cultural diversity

Interpreting song lyrics as a literature device can aid in furthering and bettering the understanding of cultures during different time periods and in relations to different groups of individuals, an Ohio State University professor said.
In “Whose Afraid of Khubilai Khan? A New Perspective on Diversity in Yuan Chinese Musical Culture,” a lecture by Patricia Sieber, Ph.D., and associate professor of East Asian Languages and Literature at Ohio State University stated that lyrics of ancient songs can been viewed as literature and used as a tool to understand cultural diversity.
“We should see these songs as one chapter in the unfolding history of Chinese as a world literary language,” Sieber said.
Sieber explained the culture of music and song in China during Marco Polo’s time. Although the melodies of many songs have been lost, most of the lyrics survived, but these lyrics can help understand diversity in a different time and give insight into a medieval diversity that is seemingly understated.
During the time of Marco Polo’s stay at the palace of Khubilai Khan, the founder of the Yuan Dynasty during the thirteenth and 14th century, he recorded in his journals on what occasions music was played and why music was played.
The lyrics to these songs were used for major court functions such as royal birthdays, New Year’s celebrations and for court audiences such as when Khubilai Khan was entertaining foreign ambassadors, according to Sieber.
Many times, these musical events included the same songs which were sung acapella by women, who also were active in the urban musical culture during the Yuan period. The participation by women are examples of diversity and equality in Yuan culture, Sieber stated.
The inspiration for these lyrics are diverse from the palace, to urban and rural life, as well as the different ethnicity’s that were united under the Yuan dynasty. Due in part to the fact that song writers and musicians were relocated to the capital, many aspects of their local culture influenced their songs.
“What is important here, is seeing this urban and rural origin, is the imperial heritage for this song writing,” Sieber said.
In evaluating these song lyrics as literature, a new appreciation for medieval diversity in historically and socially specific ways is created.
By studying these lyrics there is a distinct picture of the different people present and influential throughout Asia during Polo’s time there.
In this period, many writers may not have been of Chinese ethnicity, but scholars accredit these songs to the Chinese because those writers were culturally stimulated, Sieber said, adding that the songs and lyrics are the dynamic creation of those who lived during the Yuan dynasty.
“In short, what I am trying to suggest is that these songs might be yet another reason why world historians might justly claim that the Mongol empire was one of the transformative cultures in modern age,” Sieber said.
Lyrics from the Yuan period can be used to understand the relations between different people throughout Asia such as students, military officials and artists, who all participated in songwriting as well as locals and non-locals in that community, Sieber said.
Many different members of society were educated and specialized in writing lyrics, continued Sieber.
Through studying these lyrics, Sieber stated that many conventional concepts characteristic of Yuan culture do not correlate with more modern understanding of ethnic discrimination, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism.
“We need to rethink the way we view how these songs play a role in world literature and in world history,” she said.
Source: Rebel Yell

IDP Field trip 2011

Members of the IDP UK team recently travelled to Xinjiang to visit the ancient sites of Niya and Karadong. In collaboration with the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology and local guides IDP spent time documenting the sites. We are working to make this material available on the IDP database as soon as possible but general photography of the trip can already be seen on our Flickr group page and several Audioboos can be heard here.

The photograph above was taken at the house of Kaysar Mahmut, guardian of Niya site, in Kapak Askan village. It shows him (third from left) with members of his family, the IDP UK team and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Museum to be built on remains of Yuan Dynasty's earliest capital

HOHHOT, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Construction of a museum dedicated to the Yuan Dynasty's (1271-1368) upper capital of Xanadu is expected to be completed in June next year, a local official said Sunday.

Gao Jiaxin, a spokesman for the Zhenglan Banner (county) government, said that the museum, located near the city's remains in north China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, will house more than 200 relics unearthed from excavations of the site.

The remains of the city are on China's application list for world heritage status. UNESCO is scheduled to vote for new entries for its world heritage list at the World Heritage Conference in June next year.

The ancient city was built by Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan during the 13th and 14th centuries and is the earliest Yuan Dynasty capital. The layout of the ancient city demonstrates the merging of Mongolian and Han cultures.

The ruins were opened to tourists in July this year.

Gao said the museum will use modern technology to give visitors a more vivid picture of how the city was built, as well as the life and culture of the time.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Canine Conundrums: Eurasian Dog Ancestor Myths in Historical and Ethnic Perspective

In the series Sino- Platonic Papers a re-issue of No 87 from October 1998 by Victor H. Mair "Canine Conundrums: Eurasian Dog Ancestor Myths in Historical and Ethnic Perspective"

Silk Road Museum & the Tibet Museum in Seoul

From D Swede, April 4, 2011
I am writing one tip here for two separate locations. I do this because they are located close to each other (about 5 minutes walk), and you can buy a discounted ticket that allows entry to both.

The Silk Road Museum:
Korea was near the far east of the ancient Silk Road, with only Japan stretching further east. This museum has a respectable amount of artifacts and displays dedicated to the old road. The items on display do not particularly relate to Korea, but rather to any location on the old road. There are ancient weapons, clothing, animal bridals / saddles, etc.
The museum is located in a small building and has displays on three floors. The stairs are rather steep and do not offer access to wheelchair or handicapped.
Contact information for the Silk Road Museum is listed below.

The Tibet Museum:
The Tibet Museum is a humble amount of artifacts. They displays are limited to clothing and robes, photographs and several Buddha statues.

Both museums have limited information signs in English, but are obviously well documented in Korean. Thankfully the artifacts mostly speak for themselves.

Both museums are open 10am ~ 7pm. Closed on Mondays.
Tickets for each are 5000won (adult), 3000won (student).
Discount ticket for both museums are 6000won & 4000won respectively.

From the base of the Jeongdok Public Library, there is an Tourist Information Desk, with maps, or from there, there are street signs pointing the way.

By fedoromanchuarchery A short video of our visit to the Silk Road museum, a private collection tucked away in the suburbs of Seoul. The chatter in the background are me (Peter), Suki and Bede Dwyer talking bows.
The track is "Yekul Song" by the Mongolian band Hanggai.

Friday, 9 December 2011

New manuscripts from the Royal Library of Copenhagen on IDP

16 Dunhuang manuscripts in 14 rolls are now available on IDP. Donated by Arthur Bollerup Sørensen (1880–1932) in 1915, the collection contains a Daoist manuscript and a text believed to be unique. MSS 12 and 16 have colophons.

View the catalogue online or search for 'Holding Institute = Det Kongelige Bibliotek' on our Advanced Search page.

Source: IDP

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Songtangzhai Museum rises from rubble

Peacefully tucked away on tree-lined Guozijian Street in Beijing, Songtangzhai Museum appears to be a tiny little antique without any shiny modern decorations. Yet when you approach it, you will find every part of it is engraved with brilliant but mostly unfamiliar traditional Chinese culture.

Located on Guozijian Street of Beijing, Songtangzhai Museum is China's first folk carving museum that collects ancient relics of carvings retrieved from the rubble of demolition sites across the capital of China, and it also is called the "picked museum."
Founded in October 2001, Songtangzhai Museum exhibits thousands of collections mainly consisting of folk items, such as elaborate gate piers, exquisite wooden doorways, and delicate screens, which occupy a courtyard in Beijing.
Li Songtang, born in 1949 and the curator of the museum, has dedicated half his life to collecting and preserving Beijing's past.
"There used to be more than 920,000 sets of private residences and between 7,000 and 8,000 hutongs in old Beijing. But now, they are all gone," Li said.
"I'm living in Beijing and I'm a Beijinger. I like the ancient Chinese folk culture and I feel it's my duty to protect them," Li said.
Songtangzhai Museum is also seen as one of the best courtyard houses in Beijing featuring the unique traditional art and culture.
Besides the carved artworks, Li also collects blue and white porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), also on display at Songtangzhai Museum.
Li said that most of his collections of blue and white porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty were acquired in the past 10 years.
The blue and white porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty were seldom known by collectors until a pot, "Guiguzi down the hills" fetched 230 million yuan ($35.4 million) at Christie's London auction house on July 12, 2005. The news astounded collectors all over the world and since then, they have become hot collectors' items.
Experts say there are now a total of 300 to 400 blue and white porcelain pieces from the Yuan Dynasty in the world and many of them are in west Asia. It's doubtful that a private museum could have a collection of nearly 100. So Li welcomes the collection lovers to the museum for discussion and exchange of views.

Further Information:
Address: No 3, Guozijian Road, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Open: 8:30 - 18:00

A pair of stone carving gate piers from the Yuan Dynasty

Stone carving artworks are embedded in the wall of the yard at Songtangzhai Museum in Beijing

A wood carving screen

A stone carving shows the Chinese story “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles"

A stone carving shows the Chinese story “Guan Yu fights against Qin Qiong”

A wood carving

A wood carving

A wood carving

Blue and white porcelain pieces from the Yuan Dynasty

Blue and white porcelain pieces from the Yuan Dynasty

Blue and white porcelain pieces from the Yuan Dynasty

Blue and white porcelain pieces from the Yuan Dynasty

Blue and white porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty

White porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty

Blue and white porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty

People return to Swat’s historical sites

Tourists get a briefing on the Buddhist site of Ta-Lo, traced back to the 3rd century BCE. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ

SWAT: People have started coming back to historical sites in Swat, a source of information in understanding how Buddhists lived in the Swat valley.
Located in the valleys of Mingora, the Buddhist monastery of Ta-Lo tracing back to 3rd century BCE was once a happening spot for international tourists before the militants came. However, now that normalcy has returned to the valley, people, while lesser than before, have begun to return to these sites.
“We can’t believe we’re seeing the historical remains of Gandhara civilization. Reading about this is completely different from actually seeing it,” said Ayesha, a student at a local high school.
She added that visiting historical landmarks helps in widening academic understanding and hoped that tourists could learn something from the pacifism propagated by Buddhism.
Sanaullah Khan, an official from the archaeological department stated that the main Stupa that stands in the middle traces back to 3rd century BCE. Subsequent reconstruction over it traces back to 7th century BCE.
The stupa was first uncovered in 1956 Italian archaeological mission from which 9,000 statues and sculptures were recovered.
Sanaullah added that the site is arguably one of the most sacred in the world and has historically been visited by groups of pilgrims. “We have even entertained more than 25 groups in a day,” he added.
The Swat valley is the cradle of various civilizations, glimpses of which are still evident in the form of stupas, statues and castles that afford much history to international and local tourists, provided they are preserved by the government. Unfortunately, such protection has not been offered and between the vandalism and militant occupation, much has been lost to the ravages of current history.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2011.

Monday, 5 December 2011

In Search of the Great Khan

National Geographic and UCSD Engineers partner up to solve one of history’s greatest mysteries: The location of Genghis Khan's tomb.

From The University of California Guardian, november 20, 2011, by Mina Nilchian

Not many people can brag about visiting all seven continents, but one UCSD undergrad can get pretty close.
Third year Warren College student Radley Angelo has visited six, and might visit his seventh (Antarctica) this summer. But the computer engineering and literature/writing double major isn’t just a thrill-seeking globe trotter. Last summer, he visited Mongolia on an expedition on behalf of National Geographic.
The purpose of the three-week endeavor? To solve one of history’s mysteries — find the tomb of Genghis Khan.
It started when Angelo was intrigued by a presentation given by his engineering professor during his sophomore year.
“I was taking a computer science class with a professor, professor Kastner,” Angelo said. “At the end of class one day he showed a promo video for a lab that he was a cofounder of on campus. It was called the Engineers for Exploration lab, and it had the National Geographic logo on it and he said we’re always looking for talented engineers.”
Due to his family’s background in flight (his grandfather used to work for TWC Aviation), Angelo was attracted by the opportunity to work with helicopters. Before long, Angelo was working at the “Engineers for Exploration” lab with his supervisor Albert Lin, a UCSD alum, and associate professor of Computer Engineering Robert Kastner, the professor that piqued Angelo’s interest in the first place. One of the lab’s several projects — the one Angelo would be assigned to — is an innovative development of the regular helicopter. Instead of having one blade, the multiple bladed aerial copter has multiple smaller blades around it. The blades are controlled by a central computer system. They aren’t designed to carry people, but rather, a camera that would be used to take pictures from difficult angles.
With his background in computer science, it seemed natural that Angelo would spend his time at the lab developing the code for the central computer that would control the copter.
After a few successful test runs of the copter, Angelo felt it was time to get the equipment out in the real world.
“The lab exists so that students get to work on hands-on projects that actually get to go out in the field,” Angelo said. “All of our research is application driven.“
Since 2009, Angelo’s supervisor Albert Lin has taken two quests to Mongolia in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan. While there wasn’t any conclusive information about where the tomb was, it was presumed that the possible location of the burial site would likely be in a very significant mountain range of the Mongolian shaman tradition, the Burkan Khaldun mountains.
Armed with this information, the July expedition, building off of the past two expeditions, which were turned into feature documentaries by National Geographic, planned on taking advanced equipment, including Angelo’s helicopter, to get a close picture of the mountain range.
Angelo, who built the copter and had good knowledge of how to repair it, eventually convinced Lin to be a part of the effort in the third expedition to Mongolia.
The team of about 20 people left for Mongolia in July. When they reached the mountain range, a mixture of difficult terrain and some very tenacious pests gave the team quite a challenge to work with.
“The flies actually get into the car through the AC and the exhaust,” Angelo said. “They get in the windshield so you can’t actually see the outside. And then there are these thing called horse flies. They have this jigsaw nose kind of thing. What they do is they land and they attack your skin.”
They spent the three weeks hauling equipment to their exploration site and managing the different devices they were going to use to get detailed pictures of the mountain range. At night they all slept in a circular tent. Angelo used his copter to take several pictures of the mountain range, which would be stitched together to create a visualization of the area they wanted to observe. Like a more detailed version of Google Earth, the topographic picture of the mountain range could give them clues that would turn them in the right direction of finding Genghis Khan’s tomb.
“What you can do is create a really cool map of where every tree is, where every rock is,” Angelo said. “The more data you have, the better. If I find a roof tile or something, which we found a lot of roof tiles, I can now place it on a spot on a map.” The group had also been keeping close contact with the Mongolian government. Their project of studying the sacred Burkan Khaldun mountain range could be compared to “the equivalent of digging around in the Vatican.”
“You don’t do that without the right permissions,” Angelo said.
The group also came in contact with the religious shamans of the mountain range. Initially concerned with the group’s motives, they ultimately granted them permission to spend time in the area. Angelo explained that while their goal is to ultimately find the tomb of Genghis Khan, what they hope to do with the information is protect the mountain range, which is currently vulnerable to Chinese mining companies that want to gain access to the region’s natural resources.
“This area is obviously such an important part of the world’s humanity,” Angelo said. “One of every two hundred men can trace their lineage back to Genghis Khan. They just want to destroy this whole sacred mountain, that just rubs a lot of people the wrong way.”
While they weren’t able to conclusively prove that the mountain range is home to Genghis Khan’s tomb, the group’s findings were enough to get the range recognized as a UNESCO historical site. Eventually, the region will be protected from any future mining exploits.
Angelo returned from the trip with a new network of friendships from around the globe, and gained vital experience in working with engineering equipment. His copter design is going to be used by future explorers. Angelo says that he might even get the opportunity to join a team visiting Antarctica, which will use the device to track penguin migration patterns.
Angelo hopes his future includes more opportunities to apply his skills in the field. But he insists that all those opportunities begin right at home.
“It’s easy to get caught into thinking that the fifth floor of Geisel is where all this happens,” Angelo said. But that’s so patently untrue. I can’t say it enough times.”