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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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:
"The sight disclosed in the dim light of the priest's little oil-lamp made my eyes open wide. Heaped up in layers, but without any order, there appeared a solid mass of manuscript bundles rising to ten feet from the floor and filling, as subsequent measurement showed, close on 500 cubic feet. Within the small room measuring about nine feet square there was left barely space for two people to stand on..."
-- 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 --
"... an order was issued by the central [Chinese] government directing the prompt transmission of the whole library to the capital... the large sum of money assigned in compensation to [the] temple had completely vanished en route, being duly absorbed in transit through the various offices. The whole collection of manuscripts was taken away in carts...
"A good deal of pilfering occurred while the carts were still waiting at the Tun-huang Ya-mên; for whole bundles of fine Buddhist rolls of T'ang times were in 1914 brought to me there for sale. Similar opportunities for rescuing relics from the great cache offered also at different places on my way to Kan-chou as well as in Chinese Turkistan. So one may well wonder how much of the materials thus carted away actually reached Peking in the end..."
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:
"Manuscripts Found At Dunhuang"
"From the Letter to the Image"
--Sylvie Lisiecki [tr. JK].
Exposition, 16 mars - 20 juin 2004
Chine, l'Empire du trait (Calligraphies et dessins de la Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Site François-Mitterrand, Grande Galerie
Commissaire : Nathalie Monnet, conservateur en chef au département des Manuscrits (division orientale)
(événement => Expositions à la BnF => Chine, l'Empire du trait)
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 Fundamental Texts of Buddhism"
"17,000 Images Already Digitized"
--Monique Cohen and Véronique Béranger. [tr. JK]
(international et réseaux>Le projet Mellon : numériser les collections de Dunhuang)
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:
"... a succinct account of the explorations, antiquarian and geographical, which I had the good fortune to carry out in Chinese Turkistan and adjacent parts of innermost Asia. The years spent on hard travel in those little - known regions, difficult of access and trying in their physical features, remain among the happiest years of my life..."
"... explorations which I had the good fortune to carry out under the orders of the Indian Government on three successive expeditions to the innermost portions of Asia. Those expeditions werre started as long ago as 1900-1 and were continued from 1906 to 1908 and again from 1913 to 1916. They lasted altogether for close on seven years and allowed my by marches on horseback and on foot to cover distances aggregating to a total of some 25,000 miles..."
* Sir Aurel Stein, On Ancient Central-Asian Tracks: brief narrative of three expeditions in innermost asia and north-western China (London : Macmillan, 1933)
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:
Frances Wood, The Silk Road : Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia (Berkeley : University of California, 2002) ISBN 0-520-23786-2.
"Frances Wood is Head of the Chinese section at The British Library. Her previous publications include Did Marco Polo Go To China? (1995), No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China 1843-1943 (1998), Hand Grenade Practice in Peking: My Part in the Cultural Revolution (2000), and Blue Guide to China (revised edition, 2002)."
-- 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 --
"Pelliot was welcomed back to Paris in 1909 by government and scholars but it was not long before the French sinological world was divided in a bitter argument in which Pelliot was attacked as a gullible dupe.
"The origins of the argument, pursued by another sinologist, Fernand Farjenel, probably lay in jealousy that this young scholar was receiving such flattering attention from the highest in the land. Farjenel pursued several attacks at once: he attacked the Ecole française at Hanoi in the columns of an anti-colonialist journals an cast doubts on the language skills of Pelliot's mentor in Hanoi, Edouard Chavannes, but above all he accused Pelliot of frittering away French government funds on the acquisition of forgeries. Stein must have cleared the cave, said Farjenel, and Pelliot had been presented with heap of forgeries...
"Stein himself was greatly concerned about Farjenel's attack, as his letters of the period demonstrate, and he agreed to allow Pelliot to have the first sight of the collection of Dunhuang manuscripts he had made himself, with a view to the production of a limited catalogue.
"Pelliot had made the proposal rather on the basis of his work in the caves, projecting a catalogue of some two thousand manuscripts in a remarkably short time, but with the distractions of work and academic warfare in Paris, Stein had to abandon hope that Pelliot would ever produce anything."
-- "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:
"Pelliot remains an enigmatic figure, an 'undisputed master', with a memory that was so prodigious as to seem incredible to many. He effectively closed the cave to others after he left and he was equally difficult about access to his own collection which had been placed in the Bibliothèque nationale.
"He insisted that the documents be kept in a locked room to which only he held the key, an action which naturally infuriated the librarians and which set up a combative relationship between the Bibliothèque nationale and the Collège de France (where he was appointed Professor of the History and Archeology of Central Asia in 1911).
"The printed catalogues of the Pelliot collection are still appearing, and some of the prefaces reveal a continuing tension between curators and cataloguers, established nearly a century ago by Pelliot himself...
"The summary by the anonymous author of the catalogue of a centenary exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale suggests a frightening figure: 'His rigorous precision, his habit of going back to the sources, his merciless scientific rigour and his prodigious memory made him an undisputed master but one who was sometimes dreaded'."
"The contents of Cave 17 at Dunhuang are now dispersed between Peking, St. Petersburg, Paris, and London, with other smaller collections scattered around the world.
"One of the most extraordinary dispersals of Dunhuang manuscripts and other Silk Road finds was that of the collection amassed on behalf of Baron Kozui Otani, leader of the Jodo Shinzu (Pure Land Sect) by various Buddhist missions between 1902 and 1908, when they came to the attention of Captain A.R.B. Shuttleworth, standing in as consul at Kashgar whilst George Macartney was on leave.
"The Otani manuscripts appear to have been sold when the baron had to sell his mansion (where they were kept) owing to a sudden cash-flow crisis. The new owner, a former Finance Minister, seems to have given about a third of the collection to the Japanese governor-general of Lushun in Manchuria, and the remainder stayed in Japan, ending up in the Tokyo National Museum.
"The German collections reflect the oases where they worked, around Turfan, Kucha and Kumtura, and those in St. Petersburg contain many Dunhuang fragments (Kozlov was a late visitor to the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas) and the best collection of Kharakhoto finds..."
-- 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 --
"A huge amount of Dunhuang treasures had lost to some overseas areas since the discovery of the library. For example, the library originally had about 50,000 ancient documents, Buddhist sutras, arts and crafts, but later more than 40,000 of them were looted abroad and only about 8,000 remain in the National Library of China.
"According to statistics, and materials published by other countries, of all Dunhuang artifacts, about 13,300 pieces are in Britain, 6,000 in France, 20,000 in Russia, 1,000 in Japan, 25 in the United States, 3 in Germany, and 16 in Denmark. Besides, India, Finland, the Republic of Korea, Sweden and Australia also have had a large collection of Dunhuang treasures. All these treasures account for two-thirds the total founded in the Library Cave. Nowadays, when we study the Dunhuang documents of our own country, we have to buy microfilms from abroad. It's actually painful for all the Chinese and Dunhuang as well.
"On June 22, 1900, Wang Yuanlu, a Taoist living in a Dunhuang temple, accidentally discovered the Library Cave and unearthed over 50,000 pieces of sutras, documents, embroideries, silk paintings, paintings on paper and musical and other instruments. This world-shocking discovery provides numerous rich valuable materials for the study of history, geography, religion, economy, politics, nationality, language, literature, art, science and technology of China and Asia as a whole.
"Unfortunately, under the particular historical circumstance wherein the late Qing Government was corrupt and incompetent and the western powers were invading China, explorers from the Britain, France, Japan, Russia and other countries, soon after the discovery of the Library Cave, came to Dunhuang one after another,and cheated Wang Yuanlu out of a large amount of Dunhuang relics, with the result that the majority of the relics were plundered and scattered around the world and only a small part remains at home.
"The first person came to loot Dunhuang relics is a British man, Stein. Following him came the French, Paul Pelliot. Later, many other so-called explorers swarmed to Dunhuang and pillaged relics of Dunhuang. They were from Japan, Russia, the United States and so on.
"Here we'd like to introduce to you their plundering behavior one by one... Aurel Stein... Paul Pelliot... Kozui Otani... Sergei Oldenburg..."
-- 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,
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