3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

February 15, 2004 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on February 15, 2004.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


China at the BNdeF -- a Dunhuang Digital Library


The Magic of the Silk Road... la Route de la Soie... For anyone who does not know the story, the now-quaint early-1900s English of Aurel Stein still tells it best:

-- so, reveries of rare books, fragile manuscripts, ancient China and the Silk Trade, of Buddhism and travel adventures and Marco Polo -- and of The British Raj, and Rudyard Kipling's Kim and his "Great Game", and Howard Carter's, "What do you see? I see things, wonderful things..." -- and of, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Man Who Would Be King, Tomb Raider and, yes, even Lord of the Rings -- professional competition, jealousy, high adventure, and anything, really, involving pirates, and bandits, and treasure...

This is The Year of China -- L'Année de la Chine -- at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and to celebrate the event exhibitions are being mounted, talks delivered, presentations made. And most interesting of all, to me personally, selections from the library's considerable collection of "manuscrits trouvés à Dunhuang" not only will be on display but now are being digitized for presentation on the Web.


The story of the procurement and protection of the Dunhuang treasures, by among others the French scholar Paul Pelliot, involving the same "small room" which Aurel Stein also visited and described above, is one of the cultural property provenance sagas of all time: in Stein's carefully-chosen words --

The story of how Stein and Pelliot and others rescued the Dunhuang collections -- some of our earliest and greatest documentary evidence of life in Tang China -- from their ancient desert hiding place, and preserved them from various marauders both Asian and other so that they might be seen by us today, is one worth retelling in many books and movies. Pirates and bandits and treasure...

This Spring, then, the BNdeF will be offering glimpses of the result: an exhibition, and digitization --

1) The exhibition:

"China, the Empire of the Brushstroke"

2) And the digitization: there is a project under way now to digitize and thus unite, and offer to the rest of us who cannot get to Paris, the entirety of the great Dunhuang collection which was scattered nearly to the winds in the early 1900s --

The Mellon Project at the BnF: the digitization of the Dunhuang collections





Aurel Stein's "ripping" account of his own adventures at Dunhuang -- he trekked from India, from the south and west, across the mountains and the deserts and in the opposite direction from the route taken by Pelliot -- graced the shelves of practically every schoolchild of the 1930s and 40s and 50s who had any sort of sense of adventure, along with books by Richard Halliburton and the rest in the genre. Stein calls his version:

See also his Ruins of Desert Cathay: personal narrative of explorations in central Asia and westermost China (London : Macmillan, 1912) 2 vols.; On Alexander's Track to the Indus: personal narrative of explorations on the north-west frontier of India (London : Macmillan, 1929); and many other books by and about Aurel Stein and his adventures. nb. The older editions are worthwhile as much for the old photos of wild and untamed Central Asia of 1900, and of wild and untamed young Stein and his companions -- for example the following is the caption of a must-see photo --

-- as they are for their scholarly accounts...


And for the careful scholarly work of Paul Pelliot see, inter alia, his:


Perhaps a chance here, then, to see old rivalries reunited, or ignored, or even finally buried, thanks to the unifying effects of digital information and the Internet... and the only chance, really, for someone in Tasmania, or for that matter in China or California, to be able to view all of these scattered objects as one coherent whole, or perhaps ever to be able to view them at all... true now maybe of so many "collections" previously scattered by the vagaries of competitions, and of history...




April 26, 2004.

What follows here is an irresistible addendum to the above, not included in the original posting on February 15, 2004. It appears here in partial reply to the several folks who have written in since then, inquiring or complaining or protesting about the "controversies" which did or did not surround the Stein / Pelliot / etc. adventures in China at the turn of the preceding century --

A remarkable and wonderfully-readable new book on the entire subject recently has appeared in print:

-- in which, among fascinating history and travel accounts and description, and some beautiful and very interesting illustrations, the author has the following to say on Pelliot, pp. 211-212 --

-- "academic warfare in Paris"... The life of a Paris intellectual can be a perilous one: Cyrano fought duels, Voltaire was beaten and imprisoned in the Bastille, the Bibliothèque nationale de France had its own "stay at the Bastille" -- in the new opera house there, hosted / roasted by the historians of France, rather than imprisoned by the king to placate the pride of the duc de Rohan, but the general idea was similar perhaps. Pelliot was maligned and mistreated and, apparently, became secretive (below) and probably very cynical: foreign critics of the French often forget that they are far harder on each other than they ever are on outsiders... Anyway, Frances Wood continues, about Pelliot:

-- and, enticingly, here is what Wood has to say on provenance (p. 222) --

-- so, shades of Indiana Jones... I wonder whether these guys all wore brown fedoras?... and Lara Croft too, maybe...


The Chinese themselves confirm the general historical picture: here is how the English version of the People's Daily puts it currently -- online now, in 2004 --

-- fascinating stuff... the Elgin Marbles tempests, come to Dunhuang... oh, to be a graduate student again, in search of a thesis topic...

But -- as previously stated -- perhaps the best resolution of these sorts of exciting controversies now is to be found online: if anyone, anywhere, now at last can view such scattered treasures, in minute and reliable detail, perhaps the worst aspects of the international rivalries and commercial shenanigans which have surrounded them in the past now at last can recede, a bit.

And the academic controversies, too, can go back where they belong: onto academic desks, and into the pages of academic journals. The film industry may have to look elsewhere for exciting plot structures... But the risk to the collections will be less. And the addition to general world knowledge of these wondrous cultural records and achievements, hitherto hidden, will be enormous.

So, it does all make for a great adventure story. But, ultimately, kudos to those who have worked so long and so hard and so patiently to assemble, and present to the delight and edification of the rest of us, the International Dunhuang Project online,

-- and others like it. The world needs the unity which this sort of thing brings -- all of us are much indebted.





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Last update: April 26, 2004