The latest volume of The Silk Road brings the production of fresh knowledge and dissemination of exciting new discoveries derived from the lands and peoples who continue to animate the historical rubric of the Silk Road. Our excursion through place and time begins with a fascinating archaeological report by Marina Kulinovskaia and Pavel Leus on recently excavated Xiongnu graves in Tuva, lavishly illustrated with nearly fifty color photographs from the field.
From the first article on Xiongnu graves in Tuva (Fig. 49), a richly adorned tomb of a female corpse with a striking turquoise belt buckle. Image used with permission from Justin Jacobs.
We are then treated to Jin Noda’s analysis of Japanese intelligence agents in Russian and Qing Inner Asia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Next up is Zhang Zhan’s in-depth reassessment of ancient Sogdian documents from Khotan and what they can tell us about the status and occupations of these far-flung travelers during the first millennium CE. Zhang’s philological analysis is followed by Li Sifei’s investigation into the complex subject of Chinese perceptions of “Persians” and “Sogdians” during the Northern Zhou, Sui, and Tang dynasties. Marina Rodionova and Iakov Frenkel’ then encourage us to transfer our attention to the other, far less popularized end of the Silk Road, with a detailed case study of how a Mongol-era Chinese celadon made its way to the Novgorod Kremlin in Russia.
The Mongol backdrop plays an even more important role in Samuel Rumschlag’s sophisticated comparison of bow, saddle, and stirrup technology among different nomadic polities throughout Eurasian history. Finally, we have Matteo Compareti’s creative reading of the literary and artistic influences to be found in the painted programs of the great eastern Iranian hero Rustam in the Blue Hall at Panjikent. The issue concludes with reviews of two recent and important books by Susan Whitfield and Donald S. Lopez, Jr., along with detailed notices of other new books compiled—as generously and meticulously as before—by our former editor Daniel Waugh. In addition, Daniel Waugh has also contributed in innumerable other ways to the production of this volume, not least of which were his expert translations into English of the two articles originally co-authored in Russian.
Justin M. Jacobs, Editor
Image of cover used here with permission of Justin Jacobs
Versions of the Kyrgyz epos Manas have been collected and studied for over a hundred and sixty years. Reasons for this research have varied. Foreign scholars collected the first variants of stories connected to the legendary hero Manas and his descendents for linguistic purposes in the mid-nineteenth century.[i] As a Tsarist expedition made the first sound recording of a performance, connoisseurship of written variants appeared with an emerging class of Kyrgyz literati.[ii] Nationalistic interests of these local intellectuals, and the Soviet focus on folklore, coincided with the aim to produce a complete narrative. Post second world war political concerns led to the publication of a harmonized epic, with features deemed problematic removed.[iii] Throughout these periods, the extinction of the living oral tradition has frequently been predicted. In post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan (1991-), the resurgence of oral performances has been met with the frequent claim that ‘true manaschis’ (chïnïgï Manaschïlar), performers of the Manas epos capable of the traditional oral improvising, have been replaced by ‘manaschis by the book’ (jattama Manaschïlar), those who merely memorize a printed version.[iv] Wishing to examine this issue, in Fall 2017 a group of researchers connected to the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, responded to my initiative to collect and study new variants of the Manas epos.
Continue reading The Analyzing Kyrgyz Narratives (AKYN) Research Project by James Plumtree, American University of Central Asia
As Central Eurasian researchers and scholars, we sometimes find ourselves working in a field over-determined by tired and limited tropes, particularly when news about the region makes its way to the mainstream press. As curator and online zine editor Ciarán Miqeladze wryly puts it, “Uzbekistan is no different in this matter. The Central Asian country is constantly treated to the same narrative of a post-Soviet, despot-controlled country, replete with bridenappings, magical men on horses, and Instagram-able mountain ranges housing radical Islamic terrorists.” However, at the avant garde culture site Post Pravda, where Ciaran and his colleagues are working to amplify local and alternative voices from the Caucasus to Eastern Europe and beyond, the goal is to provide different viewpoints and narratives. Continue reading Check out new blogs on Central Asia: Exploring ‘Scapes’ of Sight and Sound
Friends please check out the wonderful blog by Guldana Salimjan, “Singing Back to the Steppe: Kazakh Poetry Battles in Contemporary Xinjiang” – originally published at Radii and livingotherwise.com, which are run by fellow colleague Darren Byler, who is writing a series of blogs on ‘The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia’! Continue reading Check out new research on Xinjiang!