Posts Tagged ‘Silk Road’

I have so many things to write about, and I wish I could give a fuller write-up to each of these, but I just haven’t been able to find the time lately. Even with a relatively light class load, and kabuki rehearsals only once a week, somehow I find that I’m constantly busy (okay, admittedly, not nearly as busy as some people. I just don’t have the energy or the work ethic to work really early in the morning, or really late at night, or straight through for hours and hours… maybe this is why I don’t get as much done).

Anyway, here’s a few highlights of recent news/events.

*The Reformer’s Brush, an exhibition of modern Chinese calligraphy, opens at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Art Department Main Gallery next Sunday (Feb 27). As per usual, the gallery has not gone to the bother to create even a full page, let alone a full site, for the exhibit, so maybe it doesn’t look so impressive or enticing from the website. But I promise you, it’s going to be amazing. From only a small handful of local Hawaii-based collectors, Prof. Kate Lingley (curator) and the gallery have been able to borrow works by many top major Chinese historical figures of that period, from Commissioner Lin Zexu to diplomat Li Hongzhang to Chiang Kai-shek himself.

*Speaking of Chinese exhibitions, the “Silk Road” exhibition at UPenn, featuring the Tarim Basin mummies, is going on after all!

There had been some kind of misunderstanding with China, and at the last minute, even after most of the artifacts were shipped to and received in Philadelphia, Beijing had said they could not be put on display. That was two weeks ago or so. The museum staff scrambled to put -something- together to show, and from what I hear did a pretty good job with extremely limited time and resources. But, in the end, Dr. Victor Mair (chief scholar on the Tarim Mummies, or so I understand) and others managed to sort out the misunderstandings and convince Beijing to allow the exhibition of these rare and most special and interesting artifacts to go on display after all. Congrats to Dr Mair and everyone at the Penn Museum!

*See the New York Times review, with slide show of images, here.


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Just something quick and interesting I came across while doing assigned readings for class in
Hayashi Ryoichi. “The Silk Road and the Shoso-in.” (1975).:

The cultural/ethnic diversity of the T’ang/Nara periods never ceases to amaze me. We tend to believe that exchanges were solely with China and Korea, and with other cultures only secondhand, via contact with China and Korea.

However, according to my readings here, a major embassy returned to Japan in 736 accompanied not just by a number of Chinese, but also by at least one Indian (the Buddhist priest Bodhisena), the priest Fo-che from Champa*, and a Persian.

Yes, a Persian. In Japan. In 736 CE.

*For those of you unfamiliar with Champa, it was an independent state located in the south of what is today Vietnam and Cambodia; the Chams were a distinct and separate ethnic/cultural/political entity for many many centuries.

Not only that, but major Chinese historical figures with Chinese names were not necessarily Chinese either, reflecting the multi-ethnic character of the times.

An Lushan, for example, a famous rebel of the Tang Dynasty period, was apparently some kind of Turk or Persian.

Some of you already know all of this, but it’s news to me, and I’m finding it quite fascinating.


Another thing which came up in the reading was the character 胡、 used to refer to Persians, or more generally to any foreigners from the north or west, from the point-of-view of China. Thus it was that certain cups or vases came to be known as 胡瓶 (lit. something like “Persian bottles”)。

But is this character used in modern Japanese today, and if so, in what words? The answers are surprising and amusing (or at least, they were to me).

# 胡瓜 – kyuuri – cucumber
# 胡弓 – kokyuu – a certain kind of traditional East Asian / Japanese fiddle which has faded out of use since the Edo period. Once considered something of a “sister” instrument to koto and shamisen, alongside which it was played, the latter two have remained widely known and played and seen, while the kokyuu has faded away.
# 胡座 – agura – sitting Indian-style
# 胡椒 – koshou – black pepper

Certainly, the Indian or Persian or just “foreign, from the west” sense for most of these words can be understood… I just always find it interesting to see where certain words come from, or what certain associations inspire. Consider: where do satsumas come from?

Images from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston official collections database public website. No claims of copyright over these images are alleged.

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A very brief article in the Asahi Shimbun this past Monday describes the discovery at the site of the Heijō Palace of shards of an Islamic vase dating back to the 8th century. This is the oldest Islamic vase yet found in Japan, predating one discovered in the Fukuoka area by roughly 100 years, and, so the article argues, confirming that Nara was a terminus on the “ancient Silk Road of the Sea.”

An amazing find, which helps further cement in our minds the incredible geographic extent of cultural exchange and trade in this early period. But, if I may be permitted to offer a humble amateur’s opinion, I do not think this should be seen to confirm anything. The vase could have come into Japan via Hakata (i.e. Fukuoka) or any number of other ports and then travelled to Heijō-kyō (Nara) afterward, by land.

Nevertheless, an exciting news story. As the Asahi never keeps links for long, here’s a link to a secondary copy of the story: http://news.smashits.com/403472/8th-century-Islamic-vase-found-in-Japan.htm.


In other archaeological news, which I am simply reposting after reading about it on the Archaeology.org News Aggregator site:

*Kublai Khan’s Xanadu unearthed in China

*A Roman mosaic in Lod, Israel is re-unearthed; a tourist site is being built around it.

*UNESCO officially acknowledges US-caused damage to Babylon site and intentions to make the site a World Heritage Site and to protect it from further damage. No mention made of any efforts to protect other sites *before* they are damaged in just such a way.

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