Silk Road Exchange in China

by Kateryn Linduff, ed.


Aftereffects of Silk Road Exchange in China
by Katheryn M. Linduff
Exotica in the Funerary Debris in the State of Zhongshan: Migration, Trade, and Cultural Contact
by Wu Xiaolong
Lotus Blooming under the Cross: Interaction between Nestorian Christianity and Buddhism in China
by Hongyu Wu
Glass in Early China: A Substitute for Luxury?
by Sheri Lullo
Striking Gold: The Life of Byzantine Coins along the Silk Roads
by Annah E. Krieg
Exotic Goods as Mortuary Display in Suit Dynasty Tombs: A Case Study of Li Jingxun's Tomb
by Wu Jui-man

Aftereffects of Silk Road Exchange in China

Activities of all sorts that took place on the Silk Road have become progressively more interesting to a wider audience in the past few years. Certainly the increased attention results in large part simply from the increase in materials available for study, especially from China. This renewed awareness is reinforced by the lively and interactive world in which we live today, which offers, for example, a number of television-ready documentaries on the Silk Road (NHK 1989, 1990). Beyond mere romance, these videos and recently published texts are serious studies that bring new historical documentation into the field in fresh ways, whatever the target audience.

Wonderful new publications and exhibitions have enhanced our knowledge and understanding of this exchange. For instance, there have been two major exhibitions in the past three years: one on "Monks and Merchants" at the Asia Society in New York in 2001 and the other on "The Glory of the Silk Road: Art from Ancient China at the Dayton Art Institute in 2003. Both exhibits were accompanied by handsome catalogues with sets of essays written for the scholarly audiences (Juliano and Lerner 2001; Li 2003). Other key recent volumes on various aspects of exchange include: Richard Foltz's text on religions of the Silk Road (2000), Sally Wriggins' relatively new version ofXuan Zang's text (1996), Elfriede Knauer's ingenious study called The Camel's Load in Life and Death (1998), and Vadime Elisseeff's edited volume on the "Highways of Culture and Commerce." The Silk Road Foundation website has the most up-to-date information on lectures, publications, seminars, travel, and the like, so that the most casual visitor as well as scholars who visit the site can find something of interest (Silk Road Foundation 2004). In a class by itself is the glorious photographic work of a modern-day traveler, Jonathan Tucker, who guides the reader visually along the Silk Road from western Asia, across the steppe, Central Asia, and into and around China (2003). Many, many accounts of new excavations in western China have been published in archaeological journals and entire books as well (See Bibliography, Li 2003: 232-46.). Some of the more spectacular of these include the excavation of the mummies of Tarim Basin published in English language by James Mallory and Victor Mair (2000) and the study of textiles from those sites discussed by Elizabeth Barber (1999). These discoveries open up the question of when this exchange began, which is clearly long before the ancient Chinese government officially authorized routes of trade beyond the borders of the Empire. The papers that follow treat materials and ideas that were traded, exchanged, and/or manufactured along the Silk Road and that had a considerable and lasting effect in Chinese society. Evidence from archaeological, religious, and social contexts confirms their value far beyond their commercial worth. In this volume, art historians, historians of trade and religion, as well as archaeologists, come together to consider materials from the Silk Road as residual evidence of the movement of people, artifacts, and ideas into China. The authors explore the use of such items, the materials of their manufacture and the technology used to produce them, as well as their content in relation to several questions: What role did these "exotic" ideas and materials have in the lives of their patrons and/or owners? Are new ideas and materials valued as "foreign" (Wu JM, Wu XL) or are they fully incorporated or assimilated into the dominant ways of thinking as a way of "controlling" foreignness (Wu HY)? Are forms changed and original representational integrity lost in favor of technological display (Krieg), or are technology and iconography used intentionally to express a gender and/or class distinction (Wu JM, Wu XL, Lullo, Krieg)?

Because familiarity with material science, the history of ideas, epigraphy, and the archaeology of death, with analysis of iconography, commercial and political exchange are required to analyze these questions, the papers are grounded in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches. They were first generated in my graduate seminar at the University of Pittsburgh in spring 2003. From that group of papers these five were selected to be delivered at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego in 2004. The result of this work is a set of papers trained on examining and explaining the effects of Silk Road exchange in China.