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From the Editor by: Daniel Waugh
The International Dunhuang Project
The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) based at the British Library celebrates ten years of achievement. Thanks to generous funding from a variety of sources, it has been able to make significant progress in digitizing the textual and visual legacy of the Chinese Silk Road, starting with the collections in the British Library and now including those from other countries. Its website is now available in several languages; one of its notable achievements is a center in Beijing which is processing material from Chinese collections. IDP and the British Library have sponsored a number of cataloguing projects for this material, preservation of the fragile manuscripts is proceeding apace, and a variety of educational projects are being developed.
Monuments in the Desert: A Note on Economic and Social Roots of the Development of Buddhism along the Silk Road
The success of Buddhism along the Silk Road was anchored in the local communities and their economic support for the faith. This article explores the economic activities of the Buddhist institutions, with particular attention to those at Dunhuang, whose history can be written from the manuscript legacy of the famous "library cave" at the Mogao Caves. Included here are excerpts from a number of documents in the the Pelliot and Stein collections, some of them translated into English for the first time. Of particular interest is the role women and women's associations played in organizing support for Buddhism.
Solidi in China and Monetary Culture along the Silk Road
Although a few Byzantine coins and their imitations were discovered more than a century ago at sites along the Silk Road, significant numbers of these coins were discovered in central regions of China beginning only in the 1950s. This article summarizes what has been learned so far from these discoveries and explores the question of how the coins may have been used and perceived in local communities. While it is clear that the coins played a role in burial rituals, especially in regions where Sogdian merchants were active, they may well have been valued more generally for their symbolic representation of the West as a kingdom from which treasures came.
Silk Road or Paper Road?
The "Silk Road" might more appropriately be re-named the "Paper Road," given the fact that historically paper was the much more important substance in the transmission and development of culture over the centuries in Eurasia. Invented in China, paper began to spread westward in the early centuries of the first millennium CE. For a long time in Europe, the role of the Islamic world as the transmitter of paper technology had not been appreciated. Paper's widespread acceptance in Central and Western Asia and regions further to the west is to be connected with the rise of Islam, with its sponsorship of cultural initiatives and bureaucratic requirements that created a demand for an inexpensive and durable writing medium.
East Meets West under the Mongols
The Mongol Empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries helped to stimulate a broad range of cultural exchanges across Eurasia and a wide range of artistic innovation. This can be seen in Islamic architecture in places such as Natanz in central Iran and in the development of Islamic textiles. Communities of weavers were re-settled in Mongolia and China from the Middle East, bringing their techniques with them and then combining Middle Eastern and East Asian motifs in their work. There is extensive evidence about the rapid and reliable communications along the postal networks, which facilitated the sharing of cultural values among the elites of the empire. Of particular interest are the examples from the arts of the Ilkhanid rulers of Iran and Iraq.
Yazd in Central Iran still preserves the atmosphere of one of the important commercial centers along the Silk Roads. Although the picture has changed more recently, as late as 1970 the crafts and bazaars in the city were quite traditional. Despite recent economic changes, the city offers the visitor the opportunity to stroll through winding alleys amidst mud-brick walls and enjoy some of the gems of Islamic architecture. Yazd is also the home of a sizeable and flourishing Zoroastrian community.
Kyrgyz Healing Practices: Some Field Notes
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, "alternative medicine," connected both with pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions, has re-emerged in Kyrgyzstan. The examples here from field work in 2001 highlight the activity of several women practitioners of traditional medicine. Of particular interest is the connection with local Sufi shrines and the importance of ancestor veneration. The article includes interviews in which the practitioners explain their approaches to healing and translations of some of the invocations pronounced during the rituals.