A Re­bel­lion Marks the De­cline of Hexi Cor­ri­dor

China Scenic - - Silk Road -

Who would have thought, that just a few decades later, the vast and mighty Tang shall quickly meet its demise. In the year AD 755, An Lushan, a re­gional mil­i­tary gov­er­nor, be­trayed the Tang and launched a dev­as­tat­ing re­bel­lion.

Al­most overnight, the Tang was brought to its knees. The old en­emy, the pow­er­ful Tubo King­dom, that had taken so much ef­fort to be kept in check, took full ad­van­tage and launched a mas­sive in­va­sion. In the year AD 763, when the An Lushan Re­bel­lion had al­ready been brought un­der con­trol, the Tubo army pen­e­trated west­wards of to­day’s Fengx­i­ang County in Shaanxi, and then they drove fur­ther west, even­tu­ally tak­ing con­trol of the whole Hexi Cor­ri­dor.

Af­ter the re­bel­lion fin­ished, Liangzhou, once a metropo­lis, was dev­as­tated—most of the pop­u­la­tion left and in­dus­try and trade was prac­ti­cally ex­tin­guished. The suc­ces­sor to the Tang, the Song Dy­nasty (960–1279) saw the Cen­tral Plain cut off from the Western Re­gions. Then the mar­itime trade grad­u­ally re­placed the com­merce along the Silk Road, as the mer­chants switched from camels to ships. Hexi Cor­ri­dor saw less and less traf­fic and soon the once pros­per­ous and busy trade routes stag­nated and died, and were even­tu­ally left buried un­der the sands as time re­lent­lessly marched on.

The his­tory of Hexi Cor­ri­dor as an “open trade zone” has sev­eral key junc­tions—dur­ing the reign of the Em­peror Wu of the Han, Hexi Cor­ri­dor was a win­dow, a nar­row pas­sage where the Western and the East­ern civ­i­liza­tion met. Then, Em­peror Yang of the Sui re­opened the pas­sage and held the great “Expo”. Em­peror Taizong of the Tang used it as a launch pad for the ter­ri­to­rial ex­pan­sion west­wards, pro­vid­ing good, benev­o­lent gov­er­nance to the states un­der his reign. Then, un­der Em­peror Xuan­zong (AD 685–

er; on her head she wears a corolla, her body garbed in silk gauze, as her lithe physique bends nim­bly in three dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

Kuchanese dance in­volves an elab­o­rate range of hand ges­tures, the slen­der fig­ures of the dancer flit­ting like flower petals as they in­ter­twine, flick, or spread in front of the dancer’s chest, so as to con­vey a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios and sen­ti­ments. The foot­work is also ex­tremely ag­ile, as if the dancer is about to take off in flight. Most ex­pres­sive of all are the eyes and eye­brows; the dancer may shake her head, or make ges­tures with her eyes, for a very mes­mer­iz­ing ef­fect on view­ers.

The ex­quis­ite dance of the Kuchanese peo­ple also in­cited the cov­etous gaze of their en­e­mies. In AD 383, the despotic ruler of For­mer Qin (AD 350-394), Fu Jian, af­ter hav­ing seized the Hexi Cor­ri­dor, sent his great gen­eral Lu Guang with an army of 70,000 to con­quer Kucha. Kucha suf­fered a crush­ing de­feat, upon which Lu Guang, with the help of 20,000 camels, re­turned with over 1,000 pieces of pre­cious trea­sures, of course in­clud­ing the most renowned Kuchanese dancers. But Lu Guang did not con­fer these gifts to Fu Jian, in­stead, by force of arms, he set up his own regime in Liangzhou (to­day’s Wuwei in Gansu), where he kept the spoils for his own en­joy­ment. It was not long be­fore his small king­dom was over­thrown, af­ter which the Kuchanese song and dance troupes drifted across the Cen­tral Plain. It was at this time that the charm­ing dance of Kucha truly be­gan spread far and wide through­out the Cen­tral Plain, and with its widely dif­fer­ent style, along with some ad­di­tional changes, be­came in­fused with lo­cal el­e­ments as well.

At the time the Cen­tral Plain re­gion, due to the

to their pas­sion, thus Su­muzhe con­tin­ued to en­joy pop­u­lar­ity among the com­mon classes, and as a per­for­mance-style group dance, its sphere of in­flu­ence stretched far and wide into the dance and the­ater of later gen­er­a­tions.

In AD 568, a type of Cen­tral Asian dance called Hux­uan be­gan to make its way into the Cen­tral Plain, where it rose to mas­sive pop­u­lar­ity. The states of Kangju and Anxi were both home to the Sog­dian peo­ple; the dance of Kangju in­volved “rapid spins like bursts of wind”, and was known col­lo­qui­ally as Hux­uan. Its high-speed turn­ing move­ments for which it was known, as well as its in­tense rhythms and melodies, were ex­tremely rare among the dance of the Han peo­ple, who re­garded this form of ex­otic dance with won­der and ad­mi­ra­tion.

Most of the dancers were fe­male. While per­form­ing, the dancers would wear crim­son-col­ored jack­ets with tight sleeves, long, loose green pants, red leather boots, splen­did or­nate scarves, and stun­ningly gor­geous jew­elry, in­clud­ing ear­rings, bracelets and rings of sil­ver, gold and jew­els, and be­gin the show by grace­fully tak­ing to a small, round danc­ing plat­form. The plat­form it­self was also or­nately dec­o­rated, and acted as the stage for Hux­uan.

As the strings and drums picked up in tempo, the dancer would raise her two sleeves and be­gin to spin, her robe fly­ing out around her, re­sem­bling the bloom­ing of a lo­tus flower. She would al­ter­nate be­tween spin­ning to the left and to the right. As the beat grad­u­ally grew ever more in­tense, the dancer would fol­low the beat, spin­ning faster and faster like snowflakes in a bliz­zard, her scarf trail­ing like a bolt of light­ning. In the early Tang-era fres­coes of Dun­huang Grotto No. 220 we can still see a de­pic­tion of this in­cred­i­ble Hux­uan dance, the en­rap­tur­ing silk-

a pair of boots adorned with bro­cade, for an ap­pear­ance that would stun au­di­ences as soon as the dancer took to the stage.

Be­fore the dance be­gan, the per­former would make a re­spec­tive greet­ing in his mother tongue, then the vi­brant pipa and flute mu­sic would start. The show would be very in­tense and widely var­ied, in­volv­ing spins, splits, hand­stands, kneel­ing and jump­ing. Un­like Hux­uan dance, Huteng did not in­clude rapid turn­ing move­ments, in­stead fo­cus­ing on jump­ing and light­ning- fast tran­si­tions be­tween moves. The stun­ning rhythm and ath­letic move­ments made view­ers feel as though they were among the wide open plain of the dance’s home­land. And of course the tra­di­tional com­pany for young men was liquor, so in Huteng dance there would also be a se­quence of dance steps mim­ick­ing drunken move­ments.

It was the bold spirit por­trayed by Huteng dance that led to its promi­nence among Tang times, when strength and im­pe­tus were so greatly revered. Huteng’s ac­ro­batic moves and im­pas­sion­ing mu­sic sym­bol­ized the time in a man’s life when he is at his most for­mi­da­ble strength, which the Tang court also be­lieved to rep­re­sent its state of pros­per­ity at the time.

move­ments. Its dex­ter­ous stances, and grace­ful hand and foot tech­niques, com­bined with mes­mer­iz­ing pipa mu­sic, give one both a clas­si­cal Silk Road feel, and an en­vi­sion­ing of the youth­ful gen­er­a­tions of the fu­ture. To­day the form is widely en­joyed.

Dance is a form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that com­bines phys­i­cal poses and mu­si­cal rhythm; it has no bound­aries, and is open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion by any who view it. The Silk Road was full of won­der­ful song and dances, and those spec­tac­u­lar dances were like a com­mon lan­guage of the Silk Road, al­low­ing peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and eth­nic­i­ties, with dif­fer­ent aes­thetic prin­ci­ples, to come to­gether and en­joy them­selves along­side one an­other. Amidst the soar­ing sleeves, leap­ing bod­ies, in­fec­tious emo­tions, and in­tox­i­cat­ing zeal, one could sense the in­cred­i­ble power of the hu­man body, the open­ness of the hu­man heart, and could be free to un­dergo spir­i­tual ex­change and cul­tural fu­sion. To­day the Silk Road still lives on, just as it al­ways, and the mag­nif­i­cent dance which it first brought to China is still go­ing strong.

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