News.com.au May 4, 2015
Tuesday, 5 May 2015
Yesterday I went to the first lecture from Jessica Rawson "Warfare, Beauty and Belief, Bridging Eurasia" in Leiden.
What a pleasure this proved to be. Jessica Rawson is such a power lady once she starts talking. Very eloquent and with a clear voice it's impossible to miss a syllable she says.
In this first of 4 lectures she gives in Leiden this week she tells a story about Ancient China and its neighbours among which the nomad people who lived on the steppes with a clear helicopter view which makes everything she says easy to place and to understand and which makes that at the end of her talk you don't remember some long list of details and nice pictures but that you have a clear picture of what she really wanted you to understand and you to have a clear picture of.
Tomorrow, the 6th of May is her second lecture in this serie " The Lure of Iron and Gold, Interactions with the Steppe in the First Millennium BC" again in Leiden, now in the Academy Building of the University, Rapenburg 67- 73.
Don't miss it if you live in Holland or in the vicinity of Leiden:
Don't miss it if you live in Holland or in the vicinity of Leiden:
The last two lectures in this serie from Jessica Rawson are on Friday the 8th of May in Leiden, 16.00 hours and on Saturday the 9th of may in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam at 14.30 hours (for more information, read the following announcement below)
Steppe and the Silk Roads, China’s Interactions with its neighbours- lectures by Jessica Rawson
Monday, 4 May 2015
While Europeans knew little about India and China in the Early Middle Ages, the Arab world had more contacts with these Asian countries. As sailors, merchants and travellers headed to the east, they returned with bits of knowledge. In the late ninth-century a writer named Abu Zad al-Sirafi made a compilation of notes and stories from this part of the world, entitled Accounts of China and India.
The text offers a rich description of these lands, as well as other parts of Asia, and includes interesting stories such as one about a man from Basra who upon seeing a ship bound for China was “seized by a sudden desire that caused him, as was fated, to travel to China aboard the ship.” He eventually would have an audience with the Chinese Emperor and be given a lot of money for his return journey.
Much of the text gives details that would have been interesting to merchants, including goods that could be bought and sold, what was necessary to travel around these countries, and even bankruptcy laws. It also offers insights into the daily life in those countries, including one of the first ever references to the use of toilet paper.
Here is one excerpt that explains what people wore and ate in China:
The Chinese, whether young or old, wear silk in both winter and summer. Their ruling classes wear the finest silk; other classes whatever quality they can afford. In winter, the men wear two pairs of trousers, or three, four, five, or even more pairs, according to what they can afford. This they do in order to keep the lower parts of their bodies warm, on account of the prevalence of damp and fear of its ill effects. In summer they wear a single gown of silk, or something of that sort. They do not wear turbans.
Their staple food is rice. They often cook a sauce to go with it, which they pour on the rice before eating it. Their ruling classes, however, eat wheat bread and flesh of all sorts of animals, including pigs and other such creatures. They have various kinds of fruits – apples, peaches, citrons, pomegranates, quinces, pears, bananas, sugarcane, watermelons, figs, grapes, serpent melons, cucumbers, jujubes, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachioes, plums, apricots, serviceberries, and coconuts. Not many date palms are to be found in China, except for the occasional specimen in the garden of a private house. Their drink is a wine made from rice. Grape wine is not to be found in their land, and it is never imported – indeed, they do not know of it and do not drink it. From rice they manufacture vinegar, wine, jellied sweetmeats, and other such products.
The Chinese are unhygienic, and they do not wash their backsides with water after defecating but merely wipe themselves with Chinese paper. They eat carrion and similar things, just as the Magians do; in fact, their religion resembles that of the Magians. Their womenfolk leave their heads uncovered but put combs in their hair, a single woman often wearing twenty combs of ivory and other such materials. Their menfolk, however, cover their heads with something like a cap. In dealing with thieves, their practice is to put them to death if they are caught.
Later on in the text, the Chinese and Indians are compared. Here are a few of the comparisons:
The Chinese are fond of musical entertainments; the Indians, however, regard entertainments as shameful and never indulge in them. They do not drink intoxicating drink, either, nor do they consume vinegar, because it is produced from such drink. This is a case not of religious belief of disapproval. They say, ‘A king who drinks is not a king at all,” the reason being that, in most Indian states, they are surrounded by their neighbouring kings who make war on them, so they say “How can someone run a kingdom properly if he is drunk?”
The Chinese use wood to build their walls, while the Indians build in stone, gypsum plaster, brick, and mud; these materials are however sometimes used in China also. Neither the Chinese nor the Indians are users of carpets.
The Indians let their beards grow long, and I have often seen an Indian with a beard three cubits in length. Also, they do not clip their moustaches. In contrast, most Chinese men are beardless by nature, for the most part. When someone in India suffers a bereavement, he shaves his head and his beard.
Both the Chinese and the Indians assert that their idols speak to them, when, in reality, it is their temple servants who speak to them.
India is greater in extent than China, several times so, and has a greater number of kings. China, though, is more densely inhabited and cultivated.
The Chinese have no native tradition of religious learning, in fact their religion came from India. They maintain that it was the Indians who introduced idols to their land and that they, the Indians, were the original people of religion. In both lands, they believe in the transmigration of souls as a basic tenet, although they differ on the resulting details of dogma.
India is the land of medicine and of philosophers; the Chinese also have medical knowledge. Most of their medicine involves therapeutic burning. In addition, they have a knowledge of astronomy and astrology, although this is more widespread in India. I do not know of a single member of either race who is a Muslim and Arabic is not spoken.
The Indians possess few horses; they are more common in China. The Chinese, however, do not possess elephants and do not let them remain in their land, as they regard them as ill-omened.
China is more salubrious and finer land than India. In most of the land of India there is no urban settlements, but everywhere you go in China they have a great walled city. Also, China is a healthier country, with fewer diseases and better air: the blind, the one-eyed, and the deformed are seldom seen there, although in India there are plenty of them.
The Chinese are better-looking than the Indians and more like Arabs in their dress and in their choice of mounts; in fact, their style of clothing when they ride out in public is quite similar to that of the Arabs, for they wear long tunics and belts. The Indians, however, wear two waist cloths and adorn themselves with bangles of gold and jewels, the men as well as the women.
You can read a full translation of this text in Two Arabic Travel Books, edited and translated by James E. Montgomery, which is part of New York University Press’ Library of Arabic Literature.
YANGCHUN, China — One day in March, Lin Yongtuan was on his lunch break scrolling through the news on his phone when a story with an interesting photo caught his eye. Researchers in Europe had made a remarkable discovery: the nearly 1,000-year-old mummified body of a monk encased in a statue.
Mr. Lin rushed to this lush mountain village in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, where he had grown up praying to a similar statue that was believed to hold a monk’s remains. He passed around the photo, which showed a gilded Buddhist figure sitting cross-legged, shoulders slightly hunched forward, the corners of his lips turned slightly upward in a faint smile.
The villagers all agreed: It was the same statue. They called it the Zhanggong Patriarch, and it had been stolen from Yangchun 20 years earlier. Now it seemed to have resurfaced halfway around the world in a museum in Budapest.
“Everyone in the village was so excited,” said Mr. Lin, 46, who works at a financial services firm in a nearby city. “The smile, the eyes, his posture — it was unmistakable.”
In the weeks since then, the 1,800 residents of Yangchun have been on a mission to get their mummy back. They have welcomed journalists to the village, appealed for help on social media and lobbied government officials. A native of Yangchun working as a cook in Budapest was recruited to check out the statue in the Hungarian Natural History Museum, where it was on display as part of a mummy exhibit. Then villagers organized simultaneous prayer readings at their temple and at the museum to celebrate the discovery and draw attention to their cause. Hundreds turned out, and fireworks lit up the night sky at the temple.
The village’s demand has been embraced by the Chinese government, which has stepped up efforts to reclaim looted cultural relics that ended up abroad. On April 16, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced that it had contacted the mummy’s Dutch owner, whom it did not identify, and begun discussions about returning it.
It will be difficult to determine with certainty whether the mummy, which has been removed from the museum exhibit, is truly the missing Zhanggong Patriarch.
“Unlike the big museums, where everything is very well documented, holdings of temples and local small museums have very poor records, if any at all,” said Stefan Gruber, an associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan who studies cultural heritage law and art crime in Asia. “The world is a big place, and if an object is not included in an international database, for example, how would you even find this object? Where do you even start looking? Usually once these things are gone, they are gone forever.”
The people of Yangchun hope their case will be an exception. On a recent afternoon, residents milled about and chatted with visitors in the village temple, a massive structure with thick wooden columns supporting a gently sloping, gray-tiled roof. Red vertical banners with handwritten poems appealing for good fortune hung inside, and smoke from burning incense filled the air. An electronic billboard flashing the temple’s name signified the hamlet’s relative prosperity, which villagers attribute to the tea farms that have replaced subsistence agriculture in recent years.
On the main altar stood a crude replica of the Zhanggong Patriarch, dark gray instead of gold, overlooking a table where residents had laid out evidence to support their claim to the statue: several photos of it taken in 1989 and the clothes that had adorned the figure and were left behind by whoever made off with it in 1995. A faded gold crown sat among the rags.
Villagers acknowledged that it was difficult to say that the statue in their photos was an exact match with the one exhibited in Hungary because the Zhanggong Patriarch was rarely displayed in their temple without clothes or a crown. Still, they are convinced they have the right mummy.
“To us, Zhanggong Patriarch is not a cultural relic,” said Lin Wenqing, 39, who returned from selling tea in the southern region of Guangxi when he heard the statue had been found. “We see him as family. He is one of us.”
Before its theft, residents prayed to the Zhanggong Patriarch at every important event in the village, including the harvest. Once a year, they took the statue down from the altar and paraded it through the village, visiting each house. And on the fifth day of the 10th lunar month — believed to be the mummified monk’s birthday — the village celebrated with a festival featuring performances and a bountiful vegetarian feast.
These traditions appear to go back centuries, passed down from generation to generation along with tales of the patriarch as a boy with the surname Zhang who moved to the village with his mother, worked as a cowherd and became a monk.
“They always told us that he lived during the Song dynasty,” said Lin Chengfa, 44, “and that inside the statue was his mummified corpse.”
Mr. Lin, who was part of the police unit that responded in December 1995 when the statue disappeared, recalled that several villagers wept outside the temple that morning. Especially upset were older residents, some of whom had gone to great lengths to protect the statue during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when the Communist Party smashed such relics and sought to stamp out ancient traditions as obstacles to socialist progress.
“We dug holes to hide him, and sometimes we would hide him in people’s houses,” Lin Chuanlong, 73, said of the mummy during an interview at his home in a neighboring village. “We were under a lot of pressure during those years. Sometimes we would even move him twice in one night.”
Village records, which trace the histories of families in Yangchun, most of whom share the surname Lin, include references to the Zhanggong Patriarch from as early as the Song dynasty, which ruled China from 960 to 1279.
Mummification was a sign of eminence among monks of the Chan school of Buddhism during that era, and Fujian Province was a center of Chan Buddhism, said James Robson, a Harvard professor who has written about the alleged theft of another Chinese mummy by a Japanese traveler in the early 20th century.
Only a few mummies are likely to have survived the vicissitudes of Chinese politics, he said, and some may still be hidden in statues in museum collections around the world.
When contacted on the networking site LinkedIn last month, the Dutch architect Oscar van Overeem publicly acknowledged for the first time that he owned the mummy in dispute. He has said he purchased the statue in 1996 from a collector in Amsterdam who had acquired it in Hong Kong.
Workers restoring the statue realized something might be inside, and Mr. van Overeem decided to get a CT scan, which revealed the mummy. But he insists that his statue is not the Zhanggong Patriarch.
“I have convinced the Chinese representatives easily with facts and research that the villagers’ claim is unjustified or unlikely,” he wrote via LinkedIn. “However, meanwhile, my mummy has become a political issue — if I like it or not.”
Mr. van Overeem wrote that he had reached a tentative agreement to donate the mummy to “a major Buddhist temple” near Yangchun, which he referred to as a village that “pretends the mummy belongs to them.” An unidentified foundation will offer him some compensation for what he has invested in the statue and in researching its history, he said.
He added that he was letting go of the mummy because he believed it deserved to return to its homeland “to be incorporated in truly Buddhist surroundings” and worshiped “by those who love and appreciate him.”
The mummy’s well-being may be the only issue on which Mr. van Overeem and the villagers of Yangchun agree.
“We want our Zhanggong Patriarch back so we can pray to him and worship him,” said Lin Wenqing, the tea salesman. “Not so that some collector can keep him in a cold basement or in a museum display case.”