Thursday, January 28, 2016

Revisiting Kharakhoto

The ancient Tangut city of Kharakhoto lies north-east of Dunhuang in the Gobi Desert, just inside the present-day Chinese border with Mongolia. For Colonel Pyotr Kuzmich Kozlov (1863-1935), leader of the 1907–1909 Russian Expedition to Mongolia and Sichuan, it was the city of his dreams: 'ever since reading about the ruins in the explorer Potanin's book Kharakhoto has been constantly on my mind'. His discovery of the site in March 1908 was undoubtedly the triumph of Russian activity in Central Asia and heralded the start of Tangut studies.

IDP's photograph of the ruined city, The British Library,
Photo 1187/1(48) Photographer: Rachel Roberts.

Kharakhoto was a major city of the thriving Tangut state of Xia (known in China as Western Xia: Xixia) and many documents written in Tangut were found by Kozlov. The city was one of the first to be overthrown by the Mongols when they invaded in 1226. They later established a Tangut province within their empire and the city continued to be known by its Tangut name, Edzina or Etsina, as attested by Marco Polo:

'When the traveller leaves this city of Ganzhou, he rides for twelve days until he reaches a city called Edzina, which lies on the northern edge of the desert of sand. This is still in the province of Tangut. The inhabitants are idolators. They have camels and cattle in plenty. The country breeds lanner and saker falcons, and very good ones. The people live by agriculture and stock-rearing; they are not traders.' (after Yule 1903: 223)

Kozlov sent ten chests of manuscripts and Buddhist objects to St. Petersburg after this initial visit in 1908 and acquired more material, including Buddhist paintings, on his return journey in May 1909. The artefacts he discovered reflect the cultural richness of the Tangut Xia State. The paintings and other pieces (3,500 items) are now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg while the manuscripts and printed documents (8,000 items) are with those from Dunhuang at the Institute of Oriental Studies (some are on IDP, ms. prefix=Tang.). Kozlov was leading an exploratory rather than an archaeological expedition and the site was too large for a complete excavation. Several years later when Sir Aurel Stein arrived he found many more artefacts and manuscripts. Stein recorded his first view of the city in 1914:

'It was a striking site, the most impressive perhaps that I had seen on true desert ground, this dead town, with massive walls and bastions for the most part still in fair preservation, rising above the bare gravel flat which stretches towards it from the river bank ... There was nothing in the surroundings of the dead town to impair the imposing effect created by the massive strength of the town walls and the utter desolation which reigned within.' (Stein 1928: 437)

Stein's photograph of the ruined city, The British Library,
Photo 392/29(95)

In the field Stein excavated several parts of the ancient city. Whenever he found remains of manuscripts he marked them according to their find site with a site id. (K.K. for Kharakhoto) and site feature number (given in roman numerals, I, II etc.,). Most of the manuscripts collected by Stein were fragments, the more complete material having been removed by Kozlov. In many cases the manuscripts were found too fragmentary and compressed conditions to separate. These he carefully collected and placed inside sheets of local paper, inscribing the wrapper with the find site. The wrappers were often secured with pins.

Some of the unconserved bundles, The British Library, December 2015. Photographer: Alexis Matilla.

Stein's Third Expedition material was first sent to Srinigar, arriving there in October 1915. As Stein remarked, 'war risks would have made its temporary transmission to London, as originally contemplated, a very unwise course.'(Innermost Asia: 981). Here Fred Andrewes, Principal of the Technical Institute of the Kashmir State, was entrusted with their sorting and numbering: he had worked with Stein on material from his previous expeditions. He was joined in early 1919 by Miss Lorimer, who had being working with the Stein collections in London since 1909: they had worked together on these until 1913 when Andrewes had left for Kashmir (Wang 1998). However, it appears that little was done on the Tangut manuscripts. Miss Lorimer completed her contract and returned to England in 1922. By this time Andrewes was in new Delhi working on the collections from Stein's first and second expeditions, a portion of which had been sent to India.

In January 1924 Stein asked the British Museum for space to store and work on this Third Expedition material while he completed his detailed report (Or.15495). 44 boxes arrived at the Museum in May 1924.

In 1925 there was an exhibition at the British Museum of a selection of material from Stein's third expedition (I will report separately on this). Most of the Tangut illustrated material, described by Stein in Innermost Asia, was sent to India (now in the collections of the National Museum of India in New Delhi). While the artefacts from the Third Expedition were given Museum registration numbers in 1928 (the number prefixed with 1928), the manuscript material was treated separately. Chinese and other languages material was appended onto existing sequences, Or.8211 and Or.8212 (both sequences were assigned in 1919). The former was originally for material mainly in Chinese catalogued by Chavannes, and the second sequence originally for other language material from Stein's first and second expeditions). The third expedition material was later added to these.

We have to assume, however, that the Tangut material remained unsorted for several decades as it was not assigned a manuscript number until 1959. This work was probably prompted by two factors: first the completion and publication of the catalogue of Chinese manuscripts from Dunhuang by the former Keeper of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts, Lionel Giles (1875-1958). Giles had retired in 1940 but continued work on the catalogue. The second was the appointment of Eric Grinstead (1921-2008) as Assistant Keeper. Grinstead took an interest in Tangut and probably led work on the sorting of this material.

In 1959 the manuscript prefixes Or.12380-85 were assigned to the Tangut material. It must have been at this time that the first 1839 fragments were conserved and encapsulated within glass: they remain in glass today (Or.12380/1-1839). (The prefixes Or.12381-5 do not seem to have been used, a point noted by in the Register of Oriental Manuscripts, March 19 1970.) Grinstead wrote a short article for the British Museum Quarterly introducing the material in 1961 (Grinstead 1961).

A few more complete items, such as the scroll Or.12380/1840, were lined — a typical treatment for this type of material at the time. In 1962, in another article for the British Museum Quarterly, Grinstead discussed the text on the scroll Or.12380/1840, 'The General's Garden', describing it as 'a twist of paper when first studied, is now mounted in its original form as a roll, 230 x 20 cm, containing 115 columns, complete at the top, but most unfortunately incomplete at the bottom and lacking the first third of the work altogether.'(Grinstead 1963: 36).

The General's Garden The British Library,

It is clear that other material started to be sorted, possibly by Grinstead, but was then deemed too fragmentary or delicate for conservation. Some material, for example, was removed from the original wrappers used by Stein and sorted into envelopes — often recycled standard issue British Museum brown ones, as seen below.

The image below shows such an envelope originally addressed to Grinstead containing several fragments. Grinstead's name has been crossed out and the site id. inscribed instead.'K.K.II.0284.a.xxii.' and the description 'Debris inscrit.'The postmark is dated 29 January 1959.

Other material was placed inside new paper sleeves (see below). But, judging from the comments on the envelopes and papers, when sent to the conservators (then the British Museum Bindery) they deemed much 'impossible' to conserve. They were returned to Grinstead and thence to storage.

Grinstead continued his research, publishing another article in 1967. However, by this time he had left the Museum to join the Central Nordic Institute for Asiatic Studies in Copenhagen. More activity was started when Professor Nishida visited the British Library to work on the collections. His first visit was in 1963. Professor Nishida identified fragments belonging to the same texts and these were conserved in codex format. However, the mass of unconserved material remained undisturbed.

In 2001 Ksenia Kepping from the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St Petersburg, visited the Library and some funds were found for her to compile a new catalogue. Unfortunately, Dr Kepping died before this work could be completed. However, during this period some of the material in plastic was reencapsulated into Melinex and preliminary records added to IDP.

Now, thanks to the support of the Ningxia Archives in China, the British Library has now been able to employ a new conservator to work on this material and for the production of 8000 images in the initial funded stages (up to summer 2016). The first step has been to make an inventory of all the remaining unconserved bundles and this revealed some of the working practices outlined above. We hope to learn more as we do more on this material.

IDP Conservator, Vania Assis, and IDP intern, Feichi Gao, preparing the inventory of unconserved bundles.
Photographer: Alexis Matilla


Galambos, Imre. 2015. Translating Chinese Tradition and Teaching Tangut Culture. Berlin: de Gruyter. Open Access.
Grinstead, Eric D. 1961. 'Tangut Fragments in the British Museum.' The British Museum Quarterly 24.3/4: 82–87.
Grinstead, Eric D. 1962. 'The General's Garden: A Twelfth Century Military Work.' The British Museum Quarterly 26.1/2: 35–37.
Grinstead, Eric D. 1967. 'The Dragon King of the Sea.' The British Museum Quarterly 31.3/4: 96-100.
Stein, M. Aurel. 1928. Innermost Asia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia, Kan-su and Eastern Iran. London.
Wang, Helen. 1998. 'Stein's Recording Angel: Miss F. M. G. Lorimer.'Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 8.2: 207–228.
Yule, Henry. 1903. The Book of Ser Marco Polo. (3rd ed.). London: John Murray.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

IDP News Issue No 46

Professor Zhao Feng, Director of the National Silk Museum, showing visitors around the exhibition, 'Silks from the Silk Road: Origin, Transmission and Exchange' at the West Lake Museum. They are viewing the clothes of the Yingpan burial.
Issue no. 46 of IDP News is now available to read online. It covers the several events on Silk Road textiles organised by the China National Silk Museum, including an exhibition, an international symposium and the founding of a new research association. The opening article is one of the papers given at the symposium, on the discovery of textiles to be used for the paper-making industry near Jericho.
Download IDP News Issue 46 as a PDF (2.1MB)

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Chinese-Tibetan bilingual Buddhist manuscript

This Chinese-Tibetan Lankavatara Sutra is one of the most interesting, and beautiful bilingual manuscripts from Dunhuang. As the picture above shows, it was made in the concertina format. The Chinese text, written in black ink, is a commentary on the Lankavatara Sutra, while the Tibetan text, written in red ink between the lines of Chinese, is the Tibetan translation of the sutra itself (but not the commentary).
When you read the Chinese text on this manuscript, you treat the concertina as if it were a folded Chinese scroll (which it basically is), reading from top to bottom and right to left:
On the other hand, in order to read the Tibetan, you have to turn the manuscript ninety degrees to the left, and read from left to right. When you do this, the concertina looks much more like a Tibetan pothi, and there is even a string-hole to make that association quite clear:
If you look carefully at these images, you can see that the text has been carefully marked up to show where the Tibetan translation corresponds to the Chinese. So what was the manuscript used for? One possibility is that it was used by someone learning Tibetan, or Chinese.
Another very interesting theory, suggested by Daishun Ueyama, is that this manuscript was used by the translator Chodrup, who lived in Dunhuang in the 9th century, and produced several translations of Buddhist texts into Tibetan from Chinese. Since the Tibetan text on this manuscript is from a different translation of the Lankavatara Sutra, made from a Sanskrit text, the manuscript could have been used in the course of preparing a new translation from Chinese.
Manuscript: Or.8210/S.5603, Stein Collection, British Library.
Ueyama Daishun. 1990. Tonkō bukkyō no kenkyū [Studies on Buddhism in Dunhuang]. Kyōto: Hōzōkan.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Xuastvanift: a confession book of Manichaean Uygurs

The British Library manuscript copy of Xuastvanift (Or.8212/178), a confession book of the Manichaean Uygurs.

The British Library manuscript copy can now be viewed on IDP. This follows publication in 2014 of a book on this text by Betül Özbat:
Huastuanift: Manihaist Uygurlarin Tövbe Duasi
[Xuastvanift — a confession book of the Manichaean Uygurs]
Türk Dil Kurumu Yayınları: Ankara 2014
PB, 256 pp., colour and B&W ills., 14TL.
ISBN: 9789751628985

Betül Özbat introduces her book below.

"This manuscript is one of the most important and complete texts among the Old Uygur Manichaean texts. It was first published by W. Radloff (1909) and A. von Le Coq (1910/1). After this scholars such as W. Bang and J. P. Asmussen also studied the text. A. von Le Coq’s publication (1911) was translated into Turkish in 1941 but there was no detailed study after this in Turkey. One of our main aims was to prepare a new publication on this text in Turkish in order to reach Turkish readers.

My book consists of two main sections. The first is an introduction containing brief information on Manichaean Uygurs, Manichaean literature, art, script and religion, as well as Sogdian people and their relationship with the Uygurs. The second part contains the text of Xuastvanift. This follows the text found on the longest extant manuscript which is in the Stein collection in London (Or.8212/178). There are more than twenty copies of the text but I only used other fragments from Berlin and St. Petersburg to supplement the main text. A transcription is given along with notes giving the source(s) of the text.

For example:
[337] k(ä)ntü özümüzni ämgätir biz (U7a, 1-2; L 299; Spb 139-140)

In this example, the number to the left in the square brackets indicates that this is the 337th line of the entire text. The number on the right in the round brackets indicates that this line corresponds to (respectively) the 1st and 2nd lines on the recto of Berlin U7 fragment; the 299th line on the London scroll, Or.8212/178; and the 139th-140th lines on the St. Petersburg manuscript.

A Turkish translation and the transliteration is given after the transcription. The book ends with the interpretation of some problematic points in the text, a glossary and appendix.

The appendix gives images of different manuscript copies of the Xuastvanift. The coloured images of the British Library scroll are the first to be reproduced — the previous publication by A. Von Le Coq had only black and white images."

Sponsorship enabling digitisation of the scroll was kindly provided by a Turkish scholar.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Remembering Aurel Stein: died 26 October 1943 in Kabul

On 31 March 1943, just back from Las Belas tracing one of Alexander the Great's unsurveyed routes, the scholar, archaeologist and explorer Marc Aurel Stein (b. 1862) received a telegram from Cornelius Van Hemert Engert (1887-1985), US Minister in Kabul. It was an entirely unexpected invitation to Afghanistan. Stein was in his 81st year but, characteristically undefeated by age, he immediately started making plans and laying down conditions for his visit: he wanted to visit sites in Bactria and the Helmand valley and also follow ancient routes through Afghanistan. Van Hemert Engert was dismayed that Stein expected so much to be agreed in advance, but Stein's experiences on his last visit to China in 1930 had made him cautious. Perhaps also he could not really believe it would be possible: after all, his boyhood dreams of visiting Afghanistan had been constantly thwarted.

Stein had set foot — in his imagination — on Afghan soil as a schoolboy when he first read of the travels of Alexander the Great. Thirty years later when crossing the Pamirs in 1900 on his first Chinese Central Asian expedition, he had stood at the country's western border and taken a few steps into the promised land. After this he tried many times to gain permission to carry out excavations there but had constantly failed.

Stein finally reached Kabul on Tuesday 19 October 1943. He arrived from Peshawar in the US Legation car and stayed in the Legation. He lost no time in making the round of official calls necessary to facilitate his planned archaeological work but, on the Thursday after his arrival, he allowed himself an afternoon in the Kabul Museum. The next day he had a chill and was forced to cancel engagements, including a Saturday visit to the cinema. By this time the chill had developed into bronchitis and on Sunday morning he clearly felt he might not recover. He spoke to van Hemert Engert about funeral arrangements, asking for a Church of England service and telling him: 'I have had a wonderful life and it could not be concluded more happily than in Afghanistan which I have wanted to visit for sixty years.'

That evening he suffered a stroke. He did not fully regain consciousness and died on Thursday 26 October 1943 only a week after his arrival. He was buried in the Christian cemetery in Kabul, Gora Kabur ('white graveyard'). The funeral service was conducted by the Anglican padre from Peshawar and attended by representatives of the Afghan ruler, the Foreign Ministry and other departments, the Persian Ambassador, Iraqi Minister and Soviet Chargé d'Affaires, alongside American and British Legation staff: Stein would have approved of the international mix. His grave continues to be looked after today (picture above taken in 2006).

Stein's life — and that of his contemporary, Sigmund Freud — is the topic of a lecture by Professor Craig Clunas on 6 November 2015. The lecture will be held at the British Library and followed by a drinks reception.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Publication: Tibetan Zen

Discovering a Lost Tradition
The Stories Told by the Dunhuang Cave Manuscripts

Author: Sam van Schaik

Until the early twentieth century, hardly any traces of the Tibetan tradition of Chinese Chan Buddhism, or Zen, remained. The discovery of the sealed cave in Dunhuang transformed our understanding of early Zen, and its role in Tibetan Buddhism. Sam van Schaik of IDP has recently published a book of translations of key Tibetan Zen texts, with brief introductions discussing the roles of ritual, debate, lineage, and meditation in the early Zen tradition.

Shambhala Publications, 2015
PB. 240 pp. $21.95/£17.99
ISBN: 9781559394468

Available in the UK from Wisdom Books.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Authenticity and Transparency in Digital Projects: IDP

In 2014 Paschalia Terzi from the University of Borås, Sweden, spent six months on an Erasmus scholarship with IDP in London working on her MA thesis on the concepts of authenticity and transparency in digitisation projects. Her MA was awarded in 2015 and her thesis is now available for download.

She writes:

"Cultural institutions that hold unique and valuable physical items only for restricted access until now are experiencing a change that demands them to take up the role of information providers as well. The International Dunhuang Project is a digitization project that has been taken as an example to investigate this phenomenon and more particularly issues of trustworthiness and how it can be established in the digital environment. Two concepts have been found to form the basis of its assessment in the online world, authenticity and transparency. Authenticity is a concept borrowed from the existing practice of cultural institutions like museums and archives but transparency is a new demand that has come along with internet and the WWW. Through the examination of components of IDP's website like online documents, metadata and images along with interviews with the producers of the project, an attempt has been made to understand how trustworthiness is perceived by the producers of the project and how they have implemented it on the material of their website."