New life in Tur­pan’s dead spots Yar, Qo­cho

Rich ta­pes­try of old, new cul­tures on an­cient and emer­gent routes

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By ERIK NILS­SON in Xin­jiang

eriknils­son@chi­nadaily.com. cn

The Easter Bunny shows how the ghost towns in China’s west­ern­most in­car­na­tions are be­ing rein­car­nated as in­ter­na­tional at­trac­tions, and evoke the mer­its of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, which pro­pelled their promi­nence, and the per­ils of in­tol­er­ance, which forced their falls.

The Easter Bunny came to town — specif­i­cally an an­cient ghost town in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

When the day cel­e­brat­ing the res­ur­rec­tion of Je­sus co­in­cided with the Chi­nese Tomb Sweep­ing Day in April, our 3-year-old scoured Yar’s ru­ins for candy-packed plas­tic eggs stashed by a pa­gan hare.

It dawned on us that the fact we staged the egg hunt in the dead city of Yar shows how its an­cient po­si­tion as a mul­ti­cul­tural Silk Road nexus is breath­ing new life into its in­ter­na­tional ap­peal.

It wove the nar­ra­tive thread hem­ming Tur­pan’s rich ta­pes­try of past and present cul­tures along the an­cient and emer­gent routes.

The site’s past mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism sired the city that lured us there.

And we con­trib­uted to its re­vived in­ter­na­tion­al­ism by ob­serv­ing our for­eign fes­ti­val among its rem­nants. Chi­nese un­ac­quainted with the eggstash­ing cus­tom gaw­ped.

The bunny — a sym­bol of birth adopted by Chris­tians when they co-opted the pa­gan equinox trib­ute to the fer­til­ity god­dess Eostre — that day played by two non­re­li­gious par­ents from the United States, cel­e­brated the fes­ti­vals’ con­flu­ence by stash­ing eggs (shamanic fe­cun­dity totems) in a mas­sa­cred city’s Bud­dhist cave tem­ple.

The myth­i­cal cot­ton­tail did so when two dis­tinct lu­nar cal­en­dars col­lided so Easter co­in­cided with the Chi­nese fes­ti­val hail­ing from the an­cient an­ces­tral wor­ship linked to folk re­li­gions, Bud­dhism, Tao­ism and Con­fu­cian­ism.

That is, in a now pre­dom­i­nantly Is­lamic swathe where Manichean and Nesto­rian be­liefs pre­vi­ously pre­vailed.

Yar was a global vil­lage be­fore the term ex­isted, but in­tol­er­ance made it a mass grave.

Its het­ero­ge­neous com­po­si­tion pro­pelled pros­per­ity for 1,600 years.

Then Is­lamic Mon­go­lian con­querors in­cin­er­ated Yar to en­force re­li­gious ho­mogeny.

This left what Hun­gar­i­anBri­tish arche­ol­o­gist Au­rel Stein a cen­tury ago called “a maze of ru­ined dwellings and shrines carved out for the most part from the loess soil”.

Stein’s de­pic­tion re­mains apt.

This early legacy at­tracts a grow­ing plethora of mod­ern peo­ples from fur­ther afield — even US na­tion­als.

Euro­peans didn’t “dis­cover” the “New World” for nearly a cen­tury af­ter Yar was dec­i­mated.

But their an­ces­tors (in this case, our fam­ily) have since zipped the other way across the planet to this west­ern­most strip of the Far East. And not just to hide eggs.

Thus, Tur­pan’s an­cient ghost cities of Yar and nearby Qo­cho are be­ing rein­car­nated and re­pop­u­lated by a mul­ti­ply­ing di­ver­sity of so­journ­ers.

These an­cient trade hubs were vi­tal nodes of the 5,000-kilo­me­ter Tian­shan Silk Road cor­ri­dor that linked China with mod­ern Kaza­khstan and Kyr­gyzs­tan. To­day’s Tur­pan is poised to be­come a cen­tral nexus of the em­bry­onic Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt.

PHOTOS BY ERIK NILS­SON

The ru­ins of the an­cient city of Yar

An eth­nic Uygur vil­lager rests in Tur­pan’s an­cient Tuyu­gou Val­ley, where a nascent tourism in­dus­try is tak­ing root.

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