A Rebellion Marks the Decline of Hexi Corridor
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.