Week 6: Plunder and Pillage

28 May 2016: saving Chinese history from the Chinese, liars in the desert, the tale of a dog named Dash

Dash, Aurel Stein’s beloved dog

Our exploration of Central Eurasian history ends with accounts primarily from the 20th century. The colonial age and The Great Game produced passionate, educated and capable pirates from the West who carried away literally tons of textual, archaeological and architectural relics. Reading their own accounts, we’ll discover how these determined and larger-than-life characters made their marks on Central Eurasia.

This final class will differ slightly, as we’ll be talking more about the individuals–Aurel Stein, Albert von le Coq, and Langdon Warner–that we read for this week. In addition, we’ll review all the travelers we’ve met and prepare for post-Silk Road Odysseys reading. In our readings for this week, we’ll also encounter some complicated problems concerning issues of theft, deception, protection, preservation and politics. The brazen retelling of some of these questionable actions are abrasive to us, now, and may have been when the printing was fresh, as well.

Readings for Week 6:

  1. We’ll read two selections from Aurel Stein that include his own account about acquiring access to the manuscripts which have forever made his name synonymous with the Dunhuang cave treasures and a second that recounts an interesting story about a forger of documents.
    1. Two sections about the discovery and shipping off of manuscripts from On Central-Asian Tracks.
    2. The chapter “Islam Akhun and his Forgeries” from Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan.
  2. I’ve included a short section in which Christoph Baumer interviews 108-year-old Kumran Banyas in 1994. Banyas worked on both Aurel Stein’s and Sven Hedin’s expeditions.
  3. We’ll meet a new character this week, Albert von le Coq, a jovial German, and his partner, Theodor Bartus, a Pomeranian with the life of a true adventurer–including having been a sailor and swagman in the Australian outback. We’ll read “Our Life and Work in Karakhoja” from Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan. Von le Coq’s is an interesting telling of the slightly frantic race to acquire antiquities and his interest in the locals provides us some interesting observations.
  4. Our final reading introduces another new character, but one I’ve mentioned several times: Langdon Warner. This selection from his The Long Old Road in China tells of his rather late arrival to the pillaging party of western Chinese antiquities. Even when he’s telling the story of what appear to be appalling crimes, it’s hard not to like him for his seeming friendliness and humor.

Supplementary Materials:

  1. Handmade on the Silk Road A new BBC documentary about the Silk Roads. Besides the awful pronunciations (Genghis! Xi’an!) and perpetuation of a few miserable inaccuracies, it’s beautiful and a little quirky.

Last week: This Road is not Made of Silk

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