Tuesday, April 15, 2014

IDP News Issue No. 43

IDP News Issue No. 43, Spring 2014 is now available to read online or download in PDF format (1 MB).

This enlarged edition of IDP News celebrates our 20th anniverary. In it we remember the beginnings and international growth of IDP and celebrate our many collaborations illustrated with pictures from the archives. IDP’s partners and friends have selected a few of their favourite items and have met together for celebratory events over the past six months. This is also an opportunity to thank our many supporters who have made our success possible.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some sources for silk in the Stein collection

To celebrate 20 years of the International Dunhuang Project, IDP has arranged an extensive programme of events including a half-day of lectures on 11 April ‘Silk on the Silk Road’. In this post I thought I would highlight two sources on silk in the Stein collection, one well-known and the second, a bit more obscure, but equally important for its reference to the silk trade in the fourth century AD.

Wooden panel from Dandan Uilik (Stein collection D.X.4: BM OA 1907.11-11.73), The British Museum.
This wooden panel dating from ca. seventh century from Dandan Uilik was discovered by Aurel Stein on his first expedition to Khotan in 1900-1901. The scene is thought to depict a story related by the seventh century Chinese traveller Xuanzang of how silkworms were smuggled out of China westwards into Khotan – present day Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. A Chinese princess (second from the left), about to be married to the king of Khotan, has smuggled silkworm eggs and mulberry seeds in her headdress. She carries a basket of cocoons. On the far right, a figure holding a comb stands in front of a loom with a reel of thread behind. The four-armed deity (second right) has been identified as the patron of weaving.

Among the oldest manuscripts in the Stein collection are eight letters forming the contents of a postbag lost in transit from China to Central Asia and discovered by Stein in the watch tower T.XII.a on the Dunhuang Limes. Known as the ‘Ancient Letters’, they date from the beginning of the fourth century AD and are among the earliest documents written in Sogdian, an Eastern Middle Iranian language formerly spoken in the region around Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan (see previous posts ‘A Few of our Favourite Things #7: Hans van Roon and #14: Nicholas Sims-Williams’). The letters are mostly commercial and mention many commodities, including musk, gold, pepper, camphor, wheat and perhaps white lead, as well as cloth made of linen or of hair.

Until recently the word for silk was not thought to have been mentioned in the Ancient Letters although there is no doubt that silk played an important role in the east-west trade at this period. However it has now been identified as occurring twice in letter 6, T.XII.a.ii.8g (BL Or.8212/97).
[You] said to me: [If] you go out (from China) to Loulan you should buy silk (pyrcyk) for me (in exchange) for it, and if [you do not find(?) any] silk you should buy camphor (in exchange) for [it] and bring it to me.

Ancient letter 6, a commercial document. Silk (pyrcyk) occurs twice in the fifth line: in the middle and at the end on the left (Stein collection T.XII.a.ii.8g: BL Or.8212/97)

The word for silk (pyrcyk) is formed from an otherwise unattested Sogdian word for silkworm (it occurs in Khotanese as pira‑, which means ‘worm’, especially ‘silkworm’) with the addition of the adjectival suffix ‑čīk, thus giving it the meaning ‘derived from the silkworm’, or ‘silk thread or cloth’. A different derivative of the same word, pyryk, is attested in Choresmian, another related middle Iranian language, with the meaning ‘cocoon’.

  • Nicholas Sims-Williams. ‘Towards a New Edition of the Sogdian Ancient Letters: Ancient Letter 1.’In E. De La Vaissière and E. Trombert (eds). Les Sogdiens en Chine. Paris 2005, pp. 181-93.
  • R.E. Emmerick and P.O. Skjærvø. Studies in the Vocabulary of Khotanese III. Wien 1997, pp. 91-3. 
  • Duan Qing. ‘于闐文的蠶字、繭字、絲字 (Khotanese words for silkworm, cocoon and silk).’In 季羨林教授八十華誕紀念論文集 [Festschrift for Professor Ji Xianlin on the occasion of his 80th birthday]. Nanchang, 1991.
  • Duan Qing. ‘Were Textiles Used as Money in Khotan in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries?’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23 (2013), pp. 307-25.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Photographs of Samye Monastery in 1935–36

Photo 1285/8, Samye Monastery in 1936

We have just digitised a series of photographs of Samye monastery taken in 1935–36. These prints are from the papers of F.W. Thomas, Tibetologist and librarian at the India Office Library. They were sent to him by Hugh Richardson, another Tibetologist who was stationed in Tibet as the British Trade Agent for several years. There are two different sets of photos. Richardson posted the first set of thirteen to Thomas in August 1938, explaining that they were taken at a consecration ceremony held at Samye after recent restoration works. Here is the text of Richardson's letter:

via India
22nd August 1938

Dear Dr. Thomas,
I am sending some pictures of Samye which I got from a friend — a Lhasa Depön — who accompanied the Regent when he went there in 1936 to perform the re-dedication ceremony after extensive repairs. Some of the photographs contain pictures of part of the ceremony. I had them enlarged from very small negatives and I hope they will be of some use to you. There is a general view which should help to identify photos of individual buildings. If there is any particular detail of which you want a photo please let me know in case I can get an opportunity of visiting Samye. I am trying to get pictures of the monastery before repair but have not succeeded so far. I believe there is one photograph in Sir Charles Bell's "The People of Tibet" or it may be in his "Religions of Tibet".

The negatives of the pictures I have sent you are not my property but if you should desire to reproduce any of the pictures I could ask the owner if he has any objection.

I hope you had a pleasant journey home. I have no definite news yet whether I shall be going to Lhasa this autumn or not, but it is still quite possible.

I believe there is a Tibetan m.s [sic] containing the text of the Doring but can't trace its exact title. I shall enquire about it if I get to Lhasa.

Yours sincerely,
Hugh Richardson

The prints sent with this letter are now digitised and on the IDP website. They can be found under the the pressmarks Photo 1285/6 to Photo 1285/18. One of the photographs (Photo 1285/15) is very similar to the one that appears on p.37 of Charles Bell's The Religions of Tibet but it is not the same photograph, despite showing the same long-distance view of the temple complex.

As well as discussing the photographs, which were not taken by him, but by a Depön, an official in the Lhasa government, Richardson also mentions the text of the Doring, the inscribed pillars that were made during the Tibetan empire. The particular Doring he refers to here may be the one at Samye, and the Tibetan manuscript containing its text is probably the one by Kathok Tsewang Norbu, which Richardson did acquire later, and is now among his papers at the Bodleian.

The second letter was written by Richardson just a couple of weeks later, after he had found three photographs of Samye before the recent reconstruction:

via India
3rd September 1938

Dear Dr Thomas,
I have secured, and send herewith these photos of Samye taken in 1935 before the repairs. The negatives are the property of Capt. Battye of the Political Dept.

There does not appear to be any obvious change in the buildings so perhaps the batch of later photographs which I have already sent may prove useful.

Yours sincerely,
H. Richardson

These three prints are now available on the IDP website under the pressmarks Photo 1285/3 to Photo 1285/5. As Richardson says, they don't appear to show any significant differences prior to the restoration work, which was probably limited to repairs, regilding, and the like.

Portrait of Frederick William Thomas and Giuseppe Tucci, Rome in 1955. Photo 1285/1

Finally, this collection of photographs also includes two pictures of F.W. Thomas with Giuseppe Tucci, which were sent to Thomas from Italy by Tucci's photographer Francesca Bonardi. On these, see this blogpost on earlytibet.com. To see all of this collection, go to idp.bl.uk and type ‘Photo 1285’ in the database search box.

Charles Manson and Nathan W. Hill, forthcoming, "A Gter ma of Negatives: H.E. Richardson’s Photographic Negatives of Manuscript Copies of Tibetan Imperial Inscriptions Possibly Collected by Rig ’dzin Tshe dbang nor bu in the 18th Century CE, Recently Found in the Bodleian Library, Oxford." In Kurt Tropper (ed), Epigraphic Evidence in the Pre-modern Buddhist World edited by Kurt Tropper. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Few of Our Favourite Things: The Complete Series

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection is available as an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News. A Pinterest board featuring all twenty of the ‘favourite’ items is also available. For full details of all our anniversary events and activities please see our 20th anniversary programme page.

IDP would like to thank all of the contributors for their selections and for taking part in our 20th anniversary celebrations. Below is a full list of their posts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#MuseumMastermind and #MuseumWeek

This week IDP UK has been taking part in Twitter’s #MuseumWeek event and today for the ‘Test Your Knowledge’ #MuseumMastermind day we prepared two quizzes and a bonus question. For the first quiz we asked our followers to identify the languages and scripts of manuscripts, and for the second we asked them to name the pictured buddha or bodhisattva. The bonus question was to tell us the printing date of the Diamond Sutra currently on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library. The answers to all our questions are shown below.

Find out more about #MuseumWeek on Twitter or follow IDP UK to hear about all our activities and events.

Languages and Scripts

Question 1/13: Or.8211/1393
Gandhārī (lang.), Kharoṣṭhi (script)

Question 2/13: PEALD 6a
Old Turkic (lang.), Uygur (script)

Question 3/6: Or.8212/98
Sogdian (lang and script.)

Question 4/13: IOL Tib J 120.1
Tibetan (lang. and script)

Question 5/13: IOL Toch 1
Tocharian B (lang.), Brāhmī (script)

Question 6/13: IOL Khot W 1
Khotanese (lang.), Brāhmī (script)

Question 7/13: Or.13873/2
Forgery (see here for more information).

Question 8/13: Or.8212/166
Judaeo-Persian (lang.), Hebrew (script)

Question 9/13: Or.8212/161
Old Turkic (lang.), Kok Turkic (script)

Question 10/13: Or.8212/1872(d)
Middle Persian (lang.), Pahlavi (script)

Question 11/13: Or.12380/3500
Sanskrit (lang.), Brāhmī (script), Chinese (lang. and script)

Question 12/13: Or.12380/1840
Tangut (lang. and script)

Question 13/13: Or.8210/S.5662
Chinese (lang. and script)

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Question 1/6: 1919,0101,0.31
Tejaprabhā Buddha

Question 2/6: Or.8210/S.6983
Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin)

Question 3/6: 1919,0101,0.15
Avalokiteśvara (Water Moon Guanyin)

Question 4/6: 1919,0101,0.34

Question 5/6: 1919,0101,0.10
Avalokiteśvara (Cintāmānicakra)

Question 6/6: 1919,0101,0.4

The Diamond Sutra

Bonus Question: The Diamond Sutra Or.8210/P.2
Printed in AD 868.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #20 John Cayley

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

John Cayley — now teaching at Brown University in the guise of a pioneering practitioner and theorist of digital language arts — was once, in the late 1980s, a curator in the Chinese Section of the British Library. There, he had experience with research relating to items in the Dunhuang collection and, moreover, had the high privilege, occasionally, of examining some of this material firsthand. Chinese calligraphy remains a research interest for Cayley. The calligraphy of the major part of the Dunhuang collection is a wonder of calligraphic art on a global scale, but this ‘major part’ chiefly represents the art of the religiously motivated scribe rather than that of the scholar-artist, the Chinese person (usually man) of letters. Nonetheless, the collection — as we will see from the item Cayley has sponsored and which is also one of his very ‘favourite things’ — does contain uniquely precious evidence for the high art of calligraphy, China’s finest visual art, still its most dearly and commercially valued traditional art form.

Besides aspiring, some day, to a significant connoisseurship of Chinese calligraphy, John Cayley is also a poet and a translator of poetry and has been a small publisher of these complementary language arts. He has published translations from Gu Cheng, Yang Lian, Bing Xin, and others, and assembled a book-length study of the well-known contemporary artist Xu Bing. Links to his experimental writing in what he calls networked and programmable media are at programmatology.shadoof.net. Recent and ongoing projects include imposition, riverIsland, what we will, and The Readers Project. His last printed book of poems, adaptations and translations was Ink Bamboo (Agenda & Belew, 1996).

In 2001 Cayley was the winner of the Electronic Literature Organization’s Award for Poetry (eliterature.org). Currently he is a Professor in the Department of Literary Arts at Brown University, with a brief to teach and develop writing in digital media. His most recent work explores ambient poetics in programmable media, writing in immersive artificial audiovisual environments, and aestheticized vectors of reading. He also publishes theory about these new modes of writing, essays on subjects such as the role of code in new writing, the temporal properties of text, and something he calls ‘writing to be found’ both with and against the ‘services’ that threaten us with overwhelming statistical models of language.

His chosen item is Dunhuang manuscript Or.8210/S.3753.

John Cayley writes:

Or.8210/S.3753 is not a sutra, nor a scroll. It is a relative small fragment of distinctively tinted, ‘fancy’, paper with traces of cursive characters. These traces would be immediately recognisable to any student of Chinese calligraphy and likely also to anyone more generally educated in the Chinese cultural sphere, extending beyond the mainland, throughout East Asia and now, the globe. This vastly more numerous group would not only see that the calligraphy was good, they would be likely to know the name of the artist who wrote these characters and is responsible for their aesthetic form, Wang Xizhi (303–361), China’s most famous calligrapher. Strangely, in terms of a Eurocentric understanding of high art, nearly all of these amateurs of calligraphy would also know, without having to be told, that these traces of ink on the paper of Or.8210/S.3753 were not actually put there by Wang Xizhi. The true students of calligraphy amongst them would be aware that the current state of scholarship suggests to us that there are no actual traces of Wang Xizhi’s brushwork extant. As the eminent art historian, Robert E. Harrist, puts it in the title of a highly relevant article, we have nothing but ‘copies, all the way down.’ How then do we understand the significance and value of this treasure? We say that Or.8210/S.3753 is a fragment of a fatie or ‘model (of) calligraphy’. We can say further that the art of Chinese calligraphy is a complex practice that has embraced many forms of what, from a Eurocentric perspective, we would regard — and tend to denigrate — as ‘copying’.

In the Chinese cultural sphere, these practices of ‘copying’ are understood as authentic and generative, and many of them are able to preserve, more or less intact, the aesthetic and cultural value of fine artistic works. In all their instantiations and despite their variously mediated transmission, such works of aesthetic writing may be definitively associated with a first author, with a single, named and often famous calligrapher. Or.8210/S.3753 is a freehand copy (Chinese: lin) and is dated, by its inclusion in the Dunhuang collection, to the Tang dynasty. The personal notes and courtesy letters written by Wang Xizhi were preserved and copied due to the beauty of his writing. Once his calligraphy had achieved the status of fine art treasure — within his lifetime — rare originals and more widely disseminated copies immediately became models for all calligraphy students and remain so right down to the present day. Or.8210/S.3753 is a remarkably early copy of one of these models. The most prized collected copies of Wang Xizhi’s writing (such as Xingrang tie or Ritual to Pray for Good Harvest in the John B. Elliott Collection) are tracing copies, although these tracing copies were done, probably under imperial patronage, with a finesse that somehow preserves even the spontaneity of the first artist’s cursive gestures.

Successful copies of all kinds may capture the shenyun or ‘spirit resonance’ of Wang’s writing. Whenever performed by a calligraphic master, a freehand copy — most often written with some earlier ‘model’ or fatie at the calligrapher’s side — may capture the shenyun of the first writer and become itself a model. For Or.8210/S.3753, we have no indication of its contemporary calligrapher’s name, but we can see for ourselves that the characters are good and the early date of this copy renders it all but uniquely precious. There is another fragment, in the Pelliot collection in Paris (Pelliot chinois 4642), likely from the same set of model copies and based on the same series of Wang Xizhi models, the Shiqi tie or ’17 model calligraphies.’ The majority of Or.8210/S.3753 comprises the lower remains of a brief eight-line note known to calligraphers and connoisseurs as the Zhanjin tie.

For still wider dissemination, model calligraphy might be traced and transferred onto the surface of prepared tablets or monumental stones. The character forms, no matter how cursive and gestural, were then carefully carved in intaglio. Finally, models could be ‘published’ from these inscriptions by making ink rubbings on sheets of paper tamped into the carved incisions — a slow process, but one that allowed for multiple ‘prints’ to be reproduced from the same model. Rubbings from the earliest carved inscriptions — think of all the mediating steps in this complex tradition of reproduction! — might themselves come to be esteemed for their preservation of a calligrapher’s writing and its shenyun. If the stones were later lost or destroyed, a rubbing might be all that was left. There are, in fact, a few treasured early rubbings in the Dunhuang collection, including Or.8210/S.5791 with the calligraphy of Ouyang Xun (557-641). Some time ago, as an experiment, I took a digital image of the main part of Or.8210/S.3753, and overlaid it on a scan from the publication of a much later rubbing based on the ‘same’ work. The white character forms of the rubbing are still, in principle, traceable back to the initial brush strokes of Wang Xizhi, but there can have been no direct connection — other than through artistry and shenyun — with Or.8210/S.3753’s anonymous freehand traces of ink on Tang dynasty paper. The way in which the two images align is not perfect but it is extraordinarily close — perceptible evidence, in a sense, of the preservation of shenyun across centuries and despite many and various processes of transmission by generative reproduction.

How valuable to wealthy collectors over time? In his essay 'The Cost of Living and the Cost of Art in Late Ming China’, Craig Clunas quotes a Chinese source giving evidence that some version — necessarily a reproduction — of this very piece of calligraphy, the Zhanjin tie, changed hands in the late Ming for almost twice what it would cost to buy the equivalent of a Park Avenue or Mayfair mansion. In 2010, four lines of Wang Xizhi’s calligraphy — probably Tang tracing copies — sold at auction for £29m. A fragment of silk with nine lines on it had been torn in half and the first four lines were disposed of for this fabulous sum.

Clunas, Craig. ‘The Cost of Living and the Cost of Art in Late Ming China’. Association of Art Historians. Sheffield, 1988.
Giles, Lionel. Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Manuscripts from Tunhuang in the British Museum. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1957.
Harrist Jr., Robert E. ‘Copies, All the Way Down: Notes on the Early Transmission of Calligraphy by Wang Xizhi’. The East Asian Library Journal X.1 (2002): 176-96.
‘Rare Chinese calligraphy scroll fetches $46m at auction’. BBC News Asia-Pacific, 22 Nov. 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11811868.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

@idp_uk on #MuseumWeek

The staff of the International Dunhuang Project in the UK will take part in #MuseumWeek on Twitter from 24–30 March. Our aim is to give a behind-the-scenes perspective of working on a virtual museum to encourage people to work with us and the collections. If you would like to join in, please follow us @idp_uk.

The #MuseumWeek themes for each day are as follows:

Day 1 - A day in the life (#DayInTheLife)
Day 2 - Test your knowledge (#MuseumMastermind)
Day 3 - Your story (#MuseumMemories)
Day 4 - Buildings behind the art (#BehindTheArt)
Day 5 - Ask the expert (#AskTheCurator)
Day 6 - Museum selfies (#MuseumSelfies)
Day 7 - Constraint drives creativity (#GetCreative)

If you have a question that you'd like to #AskTheCurator, please go ahead and start tweeting your questions. IDP curators Susan Whitfield and Sam Van Schaik will do their best to answer on Day 5 (Friday 28).

To find out more about #MuseumWeek visit the Twitter blog.