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HIST341: The Silk Road and Central Eurasia

Unit 6: Cultural Exchange: Religion, Technology, and Art Along the Silk Road   Although the Silk Road was mainly a vehicle for the exchange of silk and other luxury goods, it also served as a venue for cultural transmission, enabling the circulation of art, new technologies, and religious beliefs.  For example, missionaries traveling from India along the silk routes first introduced Buddhism to China.  Other missionaries brought Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity eastward; these religions flourished in China and in the nomadic states of the Silk Road.  However, the rise of Islam had a significant impact on these religions.  In fact, the expansion of Islam influenced culture and trade across Central Eurasia.  Islamic beliefs spread to the nomads of Central Eurasia as Islamic merchants came to dominate the Silk Routes all the way into China.  Major Islamic commercial settlements were located in the Tang capital, Chang'an, and in the ports of Southeast China.  Over time, Silk Road cities that had been dominated by Buddhism and faiths such as Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity were increasingly centered around Islam.

In this unit, we will consider how religions from India, Syria, and the Middle East were transmitted via the Silk Road and how Islam supplanted many of these religions beginning in the seventh century.  We will also study how technology and art often followed in the footsteps of religious exchange.

Unit 6 Time Advisory
Time Advisory: This unit will take you approximately 15.5 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 6.1: 7.5 hours
 

☐    Sub-subunit 6.1.1: 4 hours

 

☐    Sub-subunit 6.1.2: 2.5 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 6.1.3: 0.5 hour

☐    Sub-subunit 6.1.4: 0.5 hour

☐    Subunit 6.2: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 6.3: 4 hours

Unit6 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Describe major milestones in the history and spread of Buddhism in China and other parts of Asia, as well as some of the factors that played a role in this process.
  • Identify some of the other religions that obtained a major presence during the era.
  • Identify some of the factors that help to explain the spread of Islam in Eurasia.
  • Identify some of the major artistic and technological developments from the period and the manner in which they affected (and were affected by) the trading networks of the Silk Road.

6.1 Religion   6.1.1 Arrival of Buddhism in China   - Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Xuanzang and the Buddhist ‘Conquest of China’” Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Xuanzang and the Buddhist ‘Conquest of China’” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Professor Waugh narrates the life and work of Xuanzang (c.602-664), a Chinese Buddhist monk, who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period.
 
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  • Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Dr. Jason Neelis’s “Buddhism and Trade” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Dr. Jason Neelis’s “Buddhism and Trade” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This reading focuses on the interaction between trade and religious exchanges between India and China and on how the processes of expanding lucrative long-distance trade networks influenced the transmission of Buddhism.
     
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  • Reading: University of Washington: Daniel C. Waugh’s version of James Legge’s translation of “The Journey of Faxian to India” Link: University of Washington: Daniel C. Waugh’s version of James Legge’s translation of “The Journey of Faxian to India” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This account details the journey of the Chinese monk Faxian, who traveled to Central Eurasia in search of better copies of Buddhist books than were available in China.  Traveling between 399 and 414 C.E, Faxian notes the Buddhist sites and practices with which he came into contact.
     
    These extracts are from James Legge, tr. and ed.’s A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien of His Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline (Oxford, 1886), pp. 9-36.  This site is maintained by Professor Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington.
     
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6.1.2 Nestorian Christianity   - Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Lance Jenott’s “The Eastern (Nestorian) Church” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Lane Jenott’s “The Eastern (Nestorian) Church” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Church of the East (originally the church of the Persian Sassanid Empire) quickly spread through Asia and, between the 9th and the 14th centuries, it was the largest Christian church in the world.
 
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  • Reading: Fordham University’s Internet East Asia History Sourcebook: Paul Halsall’s version of Ch’ing-Tsing’s “Nestorian Tablet: Eulogizing the Propagation of the Illustrious Religion in China, with a Preface, Composed by a Priest of the Syriac Church” (781 A.D.) Link: Fordham University’s Internet East Asia History Sourcebook: Paul Halsall’s version of Ch’ing-Tsing’s “Nestorian Tablet: Eulogizing the Propagation of the Illustrious Religion in China, with a Preface, Composed by a Priest of the Syriac Church” (781 A.D.) (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Nestorian Stele (781 A.D.) documents the history of early (Nestorian) Christianity in China.  The stele was buried in 845, probably due to religious suppression, but was rediscovered in 1625.
     
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6.1.3 Manichaeism   - Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Lance Jenott’s “Manichaeism” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Lance Jenott’s “Manichaeism” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Manichaeism, a Gnostic religion originating in Sassanid Persia, thrived between the third and seventh centuries.
 
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6.1.4 Islam   - Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: John D. Szostak’s “The Spread of Islam along the Silk Route” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: John D. Szostak’s “The Spread of Islam along the Silk Route” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Dr. John D. Szostak, Assistant Professor of Japanese Art History at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, discusses in this reading the Islamization of the Silk Routes that started in the eighth century.  Pay special attention to the motivations for non-Muslims to convert to Islam.
 
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6.2 Art   6.2.1 Scythian Art   - Reading: State Hermitage Museum’s “Prehistoric Art: Early Nomads of the Altaic Region” Link: State Hermitage Museum’s “Prehistoric Art: Early Nomads of the Altaic Region” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Hermitage’s collection of Scythian-Sakae items is the largest in the world; it features over 5,000 items. Scythian art is composed mainly of decorative objects.
 
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  • Reading: The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies: Shapour Suren-Pahlav's "The Scythians: An Introduction"

    Link: The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies: Shapour Suren-Pahlav's "The Scythians: An Introduction" (HTML)

     

    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety, but pay special attention to the sections "Scythian Jewelry" and "Scythian Art."  Scythian art, also known as steppes art, was produced between the 7th and 3rd centuries B.C., when the Scythians came into contact with the Greeks. 

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6.2.2 Hellenistic Art   - Reading: Asia Society’s The Collection in Context: “Sculpture from the Kushan Period” Link: Asia Society’s The Collection in Context: “Sculpture from the Kushan Period
 
Instructions:  Please read this text in its entirety.  This resource offers a view of the remarkable blending of Greco-Roman and Buddhist art that took place in the Gandhara region of what is now northern India.  Please use the links below the sculptures—especially the items “Buddha” and “Head of a Man”—to find short but valuable summaries of the ways in which these two ancient traditions are combined and expressed in the various works of art.
 
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6.2.3 Buddha Iconography   - Reading: The Silkroad Foundation’s “Buddhism and Its Spread along the Silk Road” Link: The Silkroad Foundation’s “Buddhism and Its Spread along the Silk Road” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Silk Road was a vehicle that spread Buddhism through Central Asia.  Having started in India, Buddhism quickly spread to Kushan/Bactria, the Tarim Basin, the Steppe, and China.  Pay special attention to the impact of Buddhist art on the development of Central Asian art.
 
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6.2.4 Cave Paintings and Sculpture   - Reading: China’s Museum’s “Dunhugan Mogao Grottoes” Link: China’s Museum’s “Dunhugan Mogao Grottoes” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Mogao Grottoes are also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.  Formed by 492 temples, the caves are a cultural and religious crossroad on the Silk Road.
 
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  • Reading: American Museum of Natural History’s “Roderick Whitfield Discusses Buddhist Cave Art” Link: American Museum of Natural History’s “Roderick Whitfield Discusses Buddhist Cave Art” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  In this interview for the American Museum of Natural History, Professor Whitfield discusses some of the fascinating cave murals in the oasis city of Dunhuang.
     
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6.3 Technologies   - Reading: Asia Society: John Major’s “Silk Road: Spreading Ideas and Innovations” Link: Asia Society: John Major’s “Silk Road: Spreading Ideas and Innovations” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This reading discusses how ideas, beliefs, inventions, and innovation spread along the great Eurasian Silk Road.
 
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6.3.1 Moveable-Type Printing   - Reading: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Printing & Movable Type” Link: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Printing & Movable Type” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  Make sure to read the section “Francis Bacon on the Significance of Three Chinese Inventions: Printing, Gunpowder, and the Compass” on the right hand-side of the page.
 
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6.3.2 Gunpowder   - Reading: The Silkroad Foundation’s “Gun and Gunpowder” Link: The Silkroad Foundation’s “Gun and Gunpowder” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Along with silk and paper, gunpowder is another Chinese invention that the Silk Road spread to the west.
 
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  • Reading: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Technological Advances During the Song: Gunpowder” Link: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Technological Advances During the Song: Gunpowder” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  Gunpowder was discovered by accident; however, it soon became vital to the Chinese military forces, which quickly developed gunpowder-based weapons technology and explosives.
     
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6.3.3 Astrolabe   - Reading: Astrolabe.org: James E. Morrison’s “Astrolabe History” Link: Astrolabe.org: James E. Morrison’s “Astrolabe History” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The astrolabe was an astronomical instrument designed to measure the altitude of the sun or stars, and was mostly used for astronomy and navigation.  Of Greek origin, it quickly spread through Europe, Northern Africa (the Maghrib), and the Islamic world (including eastern areas such as parts of Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and India).
 
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6.3.4 Compass   - Reading: Cultural China’s “Compass” Link: Cultural China’s “Compass” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety. The compass was invented in ancient China around 247 B.C., and probably traveled from China to the Middle East via the Silk Road, and then to Europe.  The compass greatly improved the safety and efficiency of travel, and especially of ocean travel.
 
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6.3.5 Mapmaking   - Reading: Macau Government Cultural Center: Eric Choi Chi Hong’s “Story of the Map” Link: Macau Government Cultural Center: Eric Choi Chi Hong’s “Story of the Map” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This text offers an introduction to both the history of map-making in China and the cartographic representation of the East.
 
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6.3.6 Shipbuilding   - Reading: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Technological Advances During the Song: Shipbuilding and the Compass” Link: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Technological Advances During the Song: Shipbuilding and the Compass” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  In the 12th century, with the rise of the Song dynasty, the technological advances in shipbuilding led to a blossoming of overseas trade, and the creation of China’s first permanent navy.
 
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  • Reading: Vancouver Maritime Museum’s “Watery Kingdom: China’s Mariners from Antiquity to the Ming Dynasty” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

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