China Daily European Weekly : 2018-11-30

Spotlight : 17 : 17


17 WEEKLYW November 30-December 6, 2018 And whatever lay ahead, they could always stage a twirl, with a signature leap that led the dance being dubbed Hu Teng Wu or Hu Xuan Wu, meaning literally the dance of leaping or twirling. The dance provided an apt metaphor. During the heyday of the ancient Silk Road, the Tang Empire had a passion for all things foreign, a passion that can now be seen as full-blooded infatuation. In 755, the empire and its ruler, Emperor Xuanzong, were yanked out of their reverie by internal rebellions led by two of its military governors of border regions. Both men were of Sogdian origin. “At the end of the twirl, the emperor was left in a daze,” wrote the Tang Dynasty poet Yuan Zhen in the aftermath of the shock, offering mild criticism of Xuanzong, himself a music virtuoso and aficionado of the Hu dance. The rebellion, taking more than seven years to quell, not only sapped the powerful empire of all its energy and zeal, but also represented a turning point of the fortunes of the Sogdians in China. Overnight, infatuation was replaced by mistrust, if not hatred, and openness by rejection. Economically and emotionally, a weakened Tang Empire was no longer the market it once was for Sogdians, whose own status on the Silk Road was also challenged by Arabs from the west and by Uygurs from the east. “It is fair to say that in terms of doing business, the Sogdians aspects of local life. Apart from gems and spices, this included metal wares, medicines and even gold and silver coins from various countries along the road. If all these things contribute to the magic bag of exoticism, for the local Chinese the Sogdians embodied this word. That might explain why, as the people of Tang avidly took up everything brought to them through the Silk Road, they also opened their arms to the indigenous culture of the traders, whom they conveniently called the “Hu people”. Hu refers loosely to a foreigner and more specifically to Western and Central Asian men who spoke eastern Iranian languages, Rong says. “Hu dress, Hu sound, Hu food and Hu religion — those were four main aspects that came to influence and encompass the life of a local Chinese living during the Tang era, especially its first half between the seventh and eighth centuries.” Of all, the Hu sound, and the dance that came with it, had the most fanfare and vivacity. It is easy to imagine that the music and the dance served to soothe ruffled souls as people traveled the physically and mentally challenging journey on the Silk Road, sometimes at risk of their lives. Occasionally appearing on the back of a porcelain camel is a stringed musical instrument whose big belly and crooked neck set it apart from similar ones that Chinese used at the time. Images of music performers and dancers found their way onto everything from the exterior of an octagonal gilt bronze cup unearthed in Xi’an to that of a flattened flask discovered in Luoyang. In the case of the cup, its side is divided into eight facets, each featuring a panel decorated with the chiseled image of a Sogdian musician. A more vivid group portrait involves ceramic renditions of five musicians and a storyteller, unearthed in a Tang tomb on the outskirts of Xi’an. With their Sogdian identity clearly established through both facial features and dress style, these men were engaged in performance requiring a high degree of coordination. The tacit consensus among these men, as well as the depth with which they allow themselves to be absorbed into the narration, was captured in a fleeting moment of interactive gestures and intense expression. The story told must be one about their own home. There certainly were moments of deep lamentation, but the Sogdians, whose entrepreneurship was matched by admirable daring, were never short of vim. were the teachers of the Uygurs living in what is today the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in western and northwestern China,” Rong says. “The two people also intermarried. By the 10th century, the Sogdians had largely retreated from the center stage of international trade.” The dust that they and their pack animals had raised on the Silk Road also gradually settled: Although a dramatic decline took place much later, around the 16th century, the kind of brisk trade the Sogdians witnessed was never repeated. On a pair of stone gates leading to a Tang Dynasty tomb in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region in northwestern China are two dancing Sogdians. With one leg rooted on a round carpet and the other lifted up, both are engaged in a spin of their own. Everything else — the ribbons, the upturned skirt hems and even the surrounding clouds — spin with them. For a moment it may seem they will never stop. d across time rents of history and surfaced in relatively large numbers from the resting places of their Chinese contemp o r a r i e s , those to whom they had tried to sell everything. “The images, often rendered as ceramic or clay figurines, speak for the depth with which the Sogdians once penetrated Chinese society, not merely as traders,” Rong says. “The influence they exerted, through commerce as well as their mere presence, reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty.” In most of the Tang-era figurines, the Sogdian merchants were portrayed as having a high nose, deep-set eyes and thick beard. Equally distinctive was what they wore: turban or pointed hat, coat with lapels coat or kaftan with narrow sleeves and tightfitting trousers, complete with felt boots. They often appear alongside or mounting their companion of the road, a camel or a horse. At other times, they seem to be enduring the hardship alone: A Tang Dynasty porcelain figurine unearthed in Luoyang, Henan province, depicts a Sogdian merchant holding a water bottle in one hand and carrying a big sack of goods on his bending back. In Luoyang, one of the two major trading hubs of the Tang Empire, large market-based Sogdian communities formed. The other was Xi’an, Shaanxi province, the empire’s capital. The things they sold in the Chinese heartland, often in exchange for the famous silk, touched almost all PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW

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