Three Brief Essays Concering Chinese Tocharistan: SPP

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Three Brief Essays Concerning Chinese Tocharistan (1.7 MB PDF), by Victor H. Mair.

Here are the beginnings of each of the three essays.

The Significance of Dunhuang and Turfan Studies:

There are well over a thousand scholars around the world who are working on some aspect of Dunhuang and Turfan studies. Do these two remote places in Chinese Central Asia merit such intense interest on the part of so many? In the first instance, this paper attemps to show that Dunhuang and Turfan studies, though focussing on texts and artifacts associated with these two particular sties, actually have broad ramifications for the history of East-West cultural and commercial relations in general. Another major factor is the unique quality of many materials discovered at Dunhuang and Turfan. Archaeological finds from these locations have enabled us, for the first time, to obtain an essentially first-hand look at China and some of its neighbors during the medieval period. That is to say, we can now learn, for example, about popular culture during Tang times without being forced to view it through a Confucian historiographical filter. In other words, the availability of primary materials for correcting the biases of traditional historians and materials which document the existence of phenomena (languages, religions, popular literary genres, social customs, etc.) that were completely overlooked — or even suppressed — by them. As examples of the vivid immediacy afforded by such materials, two texts from Dunhuang manuscripts S4400 — a prayer by Cao Yanlu — and S3877 — a contract for the sale of a woman’s son — are edited and translated. The paper concludes by stressing that, because of the complexity and vast scope of Dunhuang and Turfan studies, international cooperation is essential.

Early Iranian Influences on Buddhism in Central Asia:

It is usual to imagine that the transmission of Buddhism from India to China was accomplished largely by Indian missionaries and Chinese pilgrims. Until recently, the role of Iranian-speaking peoples in this great process of intellectual and religious transformation has been little known and seldom recognized. Primarily as a result of archeological discoveries during the last century, however, the vital importance of Central Asian Buddhism has become increasingly clear. It is now possible to point to specific doctrinal, iconographic, and textual instances of Iranian influence upon Buddhism in Central Asia and, consequently, in China and elsewhere in East Asia. Here we shall touch upon only a few examples of the Iranian contributions to Buddhism. The items listed in the bibliography should enable the reader to locate many more without much difficulty.

The deep involvement with Buddhism of individuals from the very heartland of Iranian civilization is evidenced by the fact that the fist known translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese was a Parthian of royal descent….

The History of Chinese Turkistan in the Pre-Islamic Period:

The first thing which needs to be pointed out about Chinese Turkistan (also spelled Turkestan) is that, for the period in question, the habitual designation is a complete misnomer. As will become obvious in the course of this article, the place was neither politically Chinese nor ethnically Turkish until after the establishment of Islam in the region. It is probably safest to refer to the area by more neutral geographic names such as the Tarim Basin and the Dzungar (also spelled Zungar and Jung[g]ar) Basin which, together with their associated mountain ranges, constitute the two main divisions of the area, or Central Asia in contrast to Middle Asia (Russian / Soviet Turkistan).

No matter how we refer to it, there is no doubt that this remote, largely desert part of the world is of extreme importance because it lies at the crossroads of Eurasia. From the dawn of civilization, trade and cultural exchange have been carried out by peoples living in and around this “heart of Asia….”

The was first published in March 1990 as issue no. 16 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

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