ADSHEAD, S. A. M. (1995). China in World History. Nova York: St. Martin's Press, pp. 21-47
AVENUES OF CONTACT 200 BC TO 400 AD
Until the Great Discoveries, there were four avenues of contact between China and Europe: the northern land route, the central land route, the southern sea route, and the far southern sea route. All functioned in antiquity; none provided more than tangential or episodic relations. The same may be said of China’s marginal contacts with Black Africa and pre-Columbian America.
The central land route
The most famous of the traditional avenues of contact was the central land route: the classical silk road, more accurately a network of alternative roads, from north-west China through the oases of the two Turkestans and northern Persia to the ports of Syria and the Black Sea. The picture of the silk road as a major Eurasian intercontinental link channelling silk in one direction and precious metals, stuccoes and glass in the other, derives from two men: Richthofen, the greatest modern geographer of China, and Aurel Stein, the greatest modern archaeologist of Central Asia. In his Letters to the Shanghai chamber of commerce, 1870-72, which formed the prolegomena to his three-volume China: Ergebnisse eigner Reisen und daraufgegrundeter Studien, 18 77 -1885, Richthofen surveyed the trade routes converging at Xi'an:Since time immemorial, commerce has found out the natural road from Lan-chau-fu to Su-chau, and its further continuation and bifurcation. Along the Nan-lu the fame of the Tsin dynasty spread to the Persians and the Romans? Fourteen centuries afterwards Marco Polo travelled on it to Lan-chau-fu, to go thence by Ning-hai-fu and Kwei-huaching to the residence of Kublai-Khan. The Chinese Emperors were, at an early period of history, awake to the importance of the possession of these channels of international traffic, because it gave them the dominion of Central Asia.In his On Ancient Central Asian Tracks, a summary of his life’s work published in 1933, Stein wrote in a chapter entitled ‘Chinese expansion into Central Asia and the contact of civilizations’:In the interest of the development of China’s internal resources it was very important to use the newly opened route for direct access to fresh markets for China’s industrial products, and in particular for the most valuable among them, its silk textiles. There is in fact ample evidence in the Chinese records to show that the great westward move initiated by the Emperor Wu-ti was meant to serve economic considerations connected with trade quite as much as political aims.Whether the flag followed trade as in Richthofen or trade the flag as in Stein, the concept of the silk road as founded by Chinese imperialism, developed by Roman luxury and sustained by Central Asian enterprise, won much support. In 1895 Chavannes in his introduction to his translation of the Shiji, provided the basic information from the Chinese end on which Stein drew. A catena of classical quotations: Lucan’s story of Cleopatra’s see-through dress of silk, Seneca’s denunciation of similar dresses at Rome, Pliny’s assertion that the eastern trade drained a hundred million sesterces a year, Ptolemy’s account from Marinus of Tyre of Maes Titianos’s expedition to the Seres, Pausanias’ near correct description of the technology of silk, all supplied the Western background. Philologists were disposed by Stein’s discovery of manuscripts in little or unknown languages such as Sogdian, Kuchean, Agnean and Khotanese to believe in a civilization of Central Asian city states supported by international trade. Archaeology at Tunhuang, Niya, Samarkand, Ay Khanoum (Alexandria on the Oxus), Surkh Kotal, Taxila and Palmyra, found the silk road a convenient framework within which to operate. Zoology invoked a powerful trade route using hybrids to explain the retreat of the Bactrian two-hump camel before its one-hump Arabian rival on the Iranian plateau.
Nevertheless, while the existence of the silk road is not in doubt, there are reasons for thinking its economic importance has been exaggerated. First, Braudel, not an undervaluer of ports, routes et traffics’, has warned against over-estimation of the quantitative significance of any pre-modern trade. In the seventeenth century, the Baltic grain trade, one of the prime components of intra-European commerce and a basis of the greatness of Amsterdam, supplied only 1 or 2 per cent of the grain consumed in the Mediterranean. Second, as noted above, in pre-modern conditions the average cost of transport by land was twenty to forty times as expensive as transport by water. Traffic would prefer a water route to a land route if one was available, which in this case it was. Third, the silk road, because of its terrain, its protection costs and its vulnerability to taxation at every oasis, was expensive even for a land route. Maes Titianos’ expedition sounds more like an oil search than a business trip. Fourth, while silk had a success of novelty at Rome and writers commented on it, the pattern of Roman spending went more for luxury foodstuffs than textiles. According to M.I. Finley, the absence of large-scale textile production for the market was a feature of the ancient economy) Even allowing that Pliny’s hundred million sesterces were more than rhetoric, they would amount to no more than 2 per cent of a reasonable estimate of the gross national product of the Roman world. Fifth, when at other times the silk road was operating strongly, it brought in its wake plague, endemic in northern Central Asia, to both the Mediterranean and China. The best opinion of medical historians is that plague was unknown in the Mediterranean till the plague of Justinian in 541 and in China until the plague of the Empress Wu in 682.
The real significance of the silk road was cultural rather than commercial. Its true sponsors were Hellenism, Chinese curiosity, Buddhism and Christianity.
The antecedents of the silk road are to be found in the plans of Alexander the Great. Whether those plans were based on Tarn’s inspired ecumenism, Lane Fox’s lived epic, or Badian’s military improvisation. Bactria held a pivotal place in them, as evidenced by Alexander’s marriage to Roxana and his foundation there of numerous Alexandrias. Bactria was to be the pivot of Hellenism in the east. A land of city states, the home of the great horse and cataphract cavalry Iranian without being Persian, it was ideal for Alexander’s synthesis. The Greeks in Bactria and India may not have fulfilled all Alexander’s hopes, but they achieved a considerable degree of Hellenization and their cultural ripples went far. Euthydemus I, c.210 - 190 BC, tried to make contact with China (the word Seres, from the Chinese si : silk, the regular Western term for China, first occurs in a work of Apollodorus of Artemita, quoted by Strabo, describing Euthydemus’ activities), and his grandsons Euthydemus, Pantaleon and Agathocles succeeded, if, as seems probable, the cupro-nickel for their coinage came from Yunnan.
The actual beginning of the silk road, however, was due to Chinese curiosity about the outside world. It began with Han Wudi's flurry of diplomatic activity following the return in 126 BC of Zhang Qian’s mission to Central Asia. The aim of the mission had been military allies against the xiongnu, but the motive behind the subsequent embassies and the construction of a fortified road from Dunhuang across the desert of Lopnor to Karashahr was cultural. Han Wudi and his successors wanted a window to the west to combat the isolation which constantly threatened China with provinciality.
As cultural claustrophobia was the perpetual danger of Chinese society, so the provision of cultural glamour was the permanent function of the Chinese state. The Han in particular, as plebeian upstarts, sought to strengthen their legitimacy by associating it with the dominant intellectual trend of the day, the internationalist philosophy of Zhou Yan. Transmitted from the Qin via Han Wendi’s chancellor Zang Zhang and the circle of the prince of Huainan, this philosophy taught that China was not the centre of the world, that it was only one of a number of continents, and that as knowledge was in principle global, China must make contact with the outside world. When therefore Han Wudi learnt from Zhang Qian that there was indeed, as Zhou Yan had conjectured, a civilized world outside China, he hastened to contact it by dispatching lavishly equipped embassies bearing silk to Bactria, Parthia, Mesopotamia, India and possibly Syria and Egypt, by constructing two monstrous exit roads northwest and south-west, and by entertaining foreign return embassies with banquets, gifts, tours round China and attendance on imperial progress. Tax-payers might complain, Confucian moralists might remonstrate, but as Sima Xiangru, the emperor’s court poet (and also his roads commissioner) who hymned his boxing of the compass in his extravaganza the Mighty One, put it: ‘The proof that our ruler has received the mandate of heaven lies in this very undertaking to the west.
If the silk road was opened by Han Wudi’s cultural diplomacy, it was consolidated and institutionalized by Buddhist missionary activity When Chinese Buddhist pilgrims give us our first travelogues of the silk road, what is described is a world of monasteries, relic shrines and pagodas maintained by a pyramid of local royal patrons culminating in the supreme patron, the cakravartin, the Kushan king. Thus Faxian, who was in Central Asia at the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries, mentions 4000 monks at Karashahr, fourteen large monasteries at Khotan, 1000 monks at Kargalik, a pagoda for one of Buddha’s teeth at Kashgar, a 400-foot pagoda at Peshawar built by Kanishka — the most famous of the Kushan kings — and also at Peshawar a monastery for 700 monks which preserved Buddha’s alms bowl. Other major Buddhist centres were Turfan, an important source of texts and translations, Kucha, the headquarters of Hinayana in Central Asia and, above all, Bamiyan, a Kushan capital and the exemplar of the gigantic religious statuary copied in China. Buddhist pilgrimage provided a motive for travel, Buddhist institutions provided an infrastructure of guest houses, letters of recommendation and information facilities for travellers;- and Buddhist piety promoted traffic by its demand for stucco Saint-Sulpicerie, incense and devotional scrolls. The chronology of ‘export Buddhism’, both Hinayana and Mahayana, and its expansion into Central Asia is not yet established. The beginnings of Bamiyan, however, may be associated with Kanishka in ‘the twenties or thirties of the second century AD’;‘the first datable trace of Buddhism at Khotan is the famous Kharosthi manuscript of a Prakrit version of the Dharinafada... which seems to date from the second century AD’, and Kucha produced a Buddhist monk, Bo Yan, who went to China in 258. It may be supposed that the tolerant Kushans gave particular support to Buddhism because, more than Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Hellenism which they also protected, it was not bound to a national culture but would absorb Hellenistic sculpture, Indian painting and Iranian imagery, while retaining its own identity. The Buddhist element of the silk road, like the Chinese, developed under cultural imperatives.
A third factor in the development of the silk road was Christian missionary activity which after 400 was to reach China and introduce the technology of silk to the West. Christian evangelization to the east began as early as to the west. It was for a long time more successful and it is only less well-known because it was conducted by thejudaeo-Christian and Aramaic rather than the Gentile and Greek half of the church.
The apostles Jude, Thomas and Bartholomew preached in the half-jewish, Roman client kingdoms of Osrhoene and Adiabene and established Christian communities, particularly at Edessa, which looked back to them and James, first bishop of Jerusalem, as their founders. At the end of the second century, as the exclusive Hellenism of the Antonines rose to climax, non-Hellenic Christianity expanded in compensation. Osroene became the first Christian state under Abgar IX, the number of bishops, and hence Christian communities, in Adiabene increased from one to more than twenty between 200 and 224, and new Christian nuclei appeared in Media, Parthia and Bactria. Philip the Arab, perhaps the first emperor personally a Christian, was a native of Osrhoene, and Paul of Samosata, first political bishop and exponent of the half-jewish adoptionist heresy, was the relative and intimate counsellor of the Philosemite Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, coruler of the east under Claudius Gothicus. In 224 came the great disaster for eastern Christianity, the Sassanid revolution, which imposed the harsh anti-Western Zoroastrian orthodoxy of the Persian plateau on the Shah’s semitic subjects in Babylonia and those he conquered from the Romans in Mesopotamia. After his victory over Valerian in 258, Shapur I deported the Christian communities of Mesopotamia to Iran to safeguard his frontiers, and Shapur II martyred three successive archbishops of Seleucia-Ctesiphon.
Eastern Christianity, however, survived and even expanded in its new home. From being a refuge from the implicitly persecuting Hellenism of the Roman empire, it became a refuge from the explicitly persecuting Zoroastrianism of the Sassanids. From being based on the non-Persian caravan cities of the west, it became based on the non-Persian, though still Iranian, caravan cities of the east in Khorasan, Ariana and TVansoxania. When the tolerant Shah Yazdgard the Sinner allowed Archbishop Maruta of Maipherqat to reconstitute the church of the east by a éouncil at Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410, forty bishops attended; and more attended a second council in 424. The list of sees is a map of the western silk road: Seleucia, Rai, Seistan, Herat, Merv. Like Buddhism in the east with its monasteries, so Christianity in the west with its bishoprics (for Mesopotamian Christianity was originally hostile to monasticism), provided an infrastructure for circulation which could serve commerce, but whose prime purpose was cultural.
The southern sea route
More important economically than the silk road and in its western half, at least, carrying a greater volume of silk, was the southern sea route: a succession of sea lanes extending from Canton and Hanoi via the Malay Peninsula, Ceylon, the coasts of Coromandel and Malabar to the Persian gulf, the Red Sea and Egypt. The remote origin of northern Indian Ocean navigation has a pedigree which includes Queen Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt c.1495 BC, the commercial ventures from Elath organized by Solomon and Hiram of Tyre, the subsequent Tyrian trading network described meticulously but obscurely by Ezekiel in Chapter 27, of his book in the Old Testament, and the naval operations of Scylax of Caryanda under Darius the Great and Nearchos the Cretan under Alexander the Great; but its real beginning was the voyage of Eudoxus of Cyzicus from Egypt to India in the reign of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, 145 to 116 BC.
The Ptolemies were losing out in the Mediterranean to Rome and losing touch with the land route to the east in Syria. It is not surprising that Ptolemy VIII, one of the most intelligent of the later Lagids, sought compensation by opening a window to the south by sea. Besides Posidonius’ account of Eudoxus’ voyage, we have Agatharchides’ reference in the next reign to the cosmopolitanism of Socotra and the report that, after Actium, Cleopatra considered sailing to India to found a new kingdom. As part of the Alexander - Dionysus myth, India played a considerable role in the cultural imagery of Ptolemaic Alexandria. At the same time, Ptolemy VIII’s contemporary Han Wu-ti was developing the sea route from the Chinese end. His eunuchs used native shipping to go, certainly, to the Malay Peninsula, possibly to Bengal, armed with silks to purchase, among other things, glass, probably from Alexandria. Wang Mang, Cleopatra’s contemporary sent an embassy to Bengal by sea with the aim of obtaining a rhinoceros. With the Greeks and the Chinese active, the Indians soon took up their natural role as middlemen. In the Milindapanha, usually dated to the second or third century AD, but referring to an earlier period, Nagasena compares the arhat to the rich shipowner who having paid his port dues crosses the high seas to Bengal, Takola in the Malay Peninsula and China in one direction, and to Alexandria in the other. Ceylon too, which figures so prominently in Ptolemy’s world map and which was so prosperous in the early centuries AD, was also involved in the route.
The scale of the traffic was considerable, Strabo was told that 120 ships sailed annually to India from Myos Hormos, the Egyptian port on the Red Sea. The Periplus of the Erythracan Sea, the first-century AD Greek description of the western half of the Indian Ocean networks, has an account of the ports of Malabar which were traded in by ‘Greek ships from Egypt’: ‘The ships which frequent these ports are of a large size on account of the great amount and bulkiness of the pepper and betel of which their lading consists, while another commodity available was fine silk’.
The Chinese sources likewise indicate a considerable volume of shipping. A third-century text, the Strange Things of the South, speaks of foreign, possibly Indian, vessels in the South China Sea, capable of carrying 600 to 700 people and 260 tons of cargo. The report of the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia in 260, Kang Tai, referred to ‘great junks’ with seven sails, belonging to a Malayan or Indonesian state, which voyaged from the Far East to the Roman empire. A seventh-century text, the Liangshu, describes one of the Cambodian satellite cities on the Malay Peninsula in the period after Kang Tai’s visit:The eastern frontier of Tun-Sun is in communication with Tong-king, the western with India and Parthia... At this mart east and west meet together so that daily there are innumerable people there. Precious goods and rare merchandise — there is nothing which is not there.Faxian, the Buddhist pilgrim who went to India by land via the silk road in 399, returned to China by sea. He had no difficulty in finding ‘a large merchant-vessel on which there were over two hundred souls’ to take him from Ceylon to Java, and a similar ship to carry him on to Canton. From both east and west, the picture is of a regular, well-established traffic, in particular areas on some scale, using the best shipping of the day
Nevertheless, the intercontinental component of this traffic was limited. Few ships travelled all the way across the Indian Ocean and few travellers went from Alexandria to Canton, or vice versa, by a relay of ships. The Periplus describes the south-west monsoon route direct from Berbera to Bombay and Malabar and the dates for catching the north-east monsoon on the return; but the greater part of the book is concerned with the inshore route along the coasts of Arabia and Persia, a route of cabotage for localized imports and exports. Similarly, though the Hanshu describes routes from the Malay Peninsula across the bay of Bengaland back, the Liangshu states, ‘The gulf of Siam is of great extent and ocean-going junks have not yet crossed it direct’. Coastal traffic short-distance was the rule, oceanic traffic long-distance the exception.
It was the same with people. Propertius has a poem about a girl at Rome whose husband had been twice to Bactria and had ‘been seen by the mailed horsemen of China’;30 but the Han court were surprised when the Andun embassy, probably a group of Greek merchants claiming authorization from Marcus Aurelius, arrived at Hanoi in 166. Similarly, Kang Tai knew of a Chinese merchant, Jia Xiangli who traded to and from India, but most Chinese merchants stopped at the barrier of the Malay Peninsula, which was where the knowledge of the Periplus gave out too. The Periplus was pessimistic about contact with China; ‘to penetrate into China is not an easy undertaking and but few merchants come from it, and that rarely’. Seneca referred to the Chinese as ‘a people unknown even to trade’, known therefore only by their products transmitted by intermediaries. So while the southern sea route carried more traffic than the silk road, it was not much stronger as a link between the closed worlds of East Asia and Western Eurasia.
The far southern sea route
By contrast, the third route linking East and West, the far southern sea route, from the spice islands of Indonesia via the Cocos Islands and the Chagos archipelago to Madagascar and Zanzibar and thence to Somalia and the Red Sea, or alternatively direct from Timor to Madagascar and East Africa along the imaginary coast of Ptolemy’s southern continent, was exclusively intercontinental. The existence of this route (which is also called the cinnamon route or the route of the raftmen) in classical times has been argued powerfully by J. Innes Miller.
Cinnamon has probably been known in the Mediterranean since the second millennium BC. Herodotus describes it as being used in mummification and Ezekiel mentions it as one of the commodities handled by the Tyrian trading network. Classical authors are unanimous in regarding it as a product of Africa and it was not handled by the routes described in the Periplus except in so far as it was injected into them at Opone (Mogadishu) and Mosullan (Berbera) from the East African coast. In fact, however, in classical times, cinnamon was only produced in southern China, and northern Southeast Asia, its later centre of production in Ceylon not then having been developed. A passage in Pliny, whose significance J. Innes Miller was the first to appreciate, unlocks the mystery Pliny explains that cinnamon was brought to Africa by ‘merchant-sailors’ who ‘bring it over vast seas on rafts which have no rudders to steer them, or oars to push or pull them, or sails or other aids to navigation, but instead only the spirit of man and human courage’, taking ‘almost five years’ over a round trip. These raftmen Dr Miller understands to be Indonesians from Java and points east, using double outrigger craft and taking advantage of the south equatorial current, which would indeed carry them, without further navigational force, to East Africa and Madagascar, which thus became the curious Afro-Indonesian community, the world’s first transoceanic colony, that it remains today The history of this route clearly depends on the chronology of cinnamon and the outrigger, (also those of South-east Asian bananas and taro in Africa), but it may well be the oldest of the routes. However, as regards volume and, despite the high cost of the cinnamon, value of traffic, the use of this route must always have been limited.
The northern land route
The fourth route between East and West, the northern land route, from the Zungharian gate across the Kazakh and Kipchaq steppes to the Black Sea, was little used in antiquity Its existence may be inferred from Herodotus’ account of the Scyths and the peoples to their east which was based on the information of the wandering shamans, Abaris the Hyperborean and Aristeas of Proconnesus, and from Zhang Qian's report on the two nomadic countries to the north-west of Transoxania, Kangzhu or the Kazakh steppe and Yanchai or the steppe to the north of the Caspian. According to the court poet Sima Xiangru, Kangzhu sent ambassadors to the Han, and the Shiji states that Chinese ambassadors were sent to Yanchai. Similarly the Greek city states to the north of the Black Sea - Tyras, Olbia, Chersonesus, Theodosia, Panticopaeum, Tanais and Phanagoria, ‘the hem of Greece sewn onto the fields of the barbarians, - were in limited touch with the adjacent steppe peoples. However, the sketchiness of the information available to both East and West indicates that not much traffic travelled this route. Its significance was not that of an avenue of intercontinental contact, though some silk and ginger may have been carried, but rather a point of diffusion to both East and West of commodities and cultural goods from the Balkash-Baikal region, notably gold and the hallucinogenic mushroom.
China’s link to Black Africa in antiquity has already been dealt with in what was said above about the route of the raftmen, but something needs to be added about Chinese contact with pre-Columbian America. The first writer to argue that America must have Been peopled by land from Asia was the Spanish Jesuit José de Acosta in his Historia natural y moral de las !ndias published in Seville in 1590. Here he considered and rejected both the theory of Atlantic origin put forward by his contemporary rival, Philip II’s librarian. Benito Arias Montano, and theories of accidental or deliberate voyaging across the Pacific: accidental, on the grounds that it would hardly explain the fauna of America; deliberate, on the grounds of its impossibility without the compass. The theory that Meso-America derived from China by sea was, however, revived by the Tyrolean Jesuit Martino Martini in his Sinicae Hi.storiae Decas Prima of 1658. It was accepted by his fellow Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, a radical cultural dif fusionist and one of the earliest theorists of ocean currents, and in the eighteenth century it gave rise to a controversy between the speculative orientalist Joseph de Guignes, who supported it on the basis of passages in the Liang-shu, and the sceptical, sinologue Jesuit, Antoine Gaubil. Gaubil won on points and no definite evidence of Chinese voyaging across the Pacific before the nineteenth century has yet been found.
Indeed, the Chinese were conscious of the difference between their western and eastern contacts. As the Jin scholar Zhanghua wrote at the end of the third century, ‘the ambassador of the Han, Zhang Qian won through across the western seas to reach Da Qin (the Roman empire). . . but the eastern ocean is yet more vast, and we know of no one who has crossed it’. Yet, as Needham points out, the exploratory expeditions to the east under the Qin and early Han recorded in the Shiji;the later voyages to Japan, possibly Kamchatka and even the Aleutians; the existence, known to the Chinese from the first centuries BC, of the Kurosiwo current and the north Pacific drift, plus the possibly Asian origins of American rafts, Inca cotton and Amerindian hookworms; and parallels at least in art and architecture all make early Sino-American contact by sea possible, even likely and further evidence must be awaited. However the import of this must not be exaggerated since the wind and current systems of the north Pacific make it unlikely that any Chinese travellers returned to the east from the New World. Columbus may not have been Chinese, but, as Chaunu has said, the significance of Columbus was not that he went, but that he came back.
INTERCHANGES, 200 BC TO 400 AD
We must now turn to see what travelled along these avenues of contact: people, flora and fauna, commodities, techniques and ideas. Sprprisingly, given the tenuous nature of the links between East and West it was the intellectual interchanges which were the most notable in antiquity
Few people travelled between China and the West in antiquity and fewer still between China and Black Africa or China and pre-Columbian America. Of those who did — the merchants, the diplomatic agents, the missionaries — most were transitory visitors who founded no permanent community of their compatriots. Four possible cases, three in one direction and one in the other, should be mentioned to underline their rarity and doubtfulness.
The first case is that of the supposed Roman military settlement in Gansu. A passage in the Hanshu describes how in 36 BC, following the siege of a city in eastern Transoxania, the Chinese captured 145 soldiers who practised a curious ‘fishscale formation’ military drill.39 Homer H. Dubs argued that the ‘fishscale formation’ was the testudo, the Roman technique of interlocked shields, and that the soldiers were legionaries captured by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae in 54 BC, stationed on the eastern frontier as was often done by the Parthians with prisoners of war, and now captured by the Chinese. Dubs went on to argue that the Han in turn settled their prisoners as a military colony in Kansu, at a place named Lijian, this being one of the Chinese names for the West (A-di-jian-ji-jia : Alexandria), which Wang Mang renamed Jielu which meant ‘prisoners captured in the storming of a city’. Needham concludes, ‘The evidence points, therefore, to a settlement of the remaining Romans as a military colony on the Old Silk Road, where they married Chinese women and spent the rest of their days’.
The second case is that of the town of Khara-khoja in the Turfan oasis which has the local names of Apsus and Dakianus. A. von Le Coq thought that Apsus was, a version of Ephesus and Dakianus a version of Decius, Roman emperor 249-251. One might guess that the name was given to the town by Roman soldiers captured by the Persians in 258 along with Decius’ successor Valerian and, like their forerunners at Carrhae, transplanted and settled in the East. Another explanation would be that the Dakianans were Christians from Ephesus, refugees from Decius’ persecution, though in that case it would have been others, not themselves, who gave them and their town its name. Ephesus was well known in the third century as a centre of intransigent, antipaedeia Christianity Maybe the Dakianans were Montanists.
The third case is that of the Jewish community at Kaifeng rediscovered by the West in the seventeenth century by Matteo Ricci. Antoine Gaubil, who investigated its origins at a time when there was more evidence than now, believed that the Jews had come to China in a series of waves, of which the first two had been in the late Zhou and in the reign of Han Mingdi 58 - 75. His evidence, admittedly, was shaky: basically the tradition of the community as expressed in later inscripdons and oral testimony But a migration following the fall of Jerusalem, at a time when the routes were open, is not impossible or implausible, though one may guess it was originally to Chang'an or Luoyang rather than Kaifeng.
Finally, in the opposite direction, there is the case of the ancient Armenian families who claim Chinese ancestry: the Orbelian who also use the name Cenbakurian, and the Mamigonian. Pelliot believed that Cenbakurian was derived from the Persian Cin-faghfur, ‘the son of heaven of China’, faghfur or bagkpur being the normal Iranian titles for the Chinese emperor, subsequently transliterated in Latin as Pacorus, though not all Pacori are references to the tianzi. For the Mamigonian, Moses of Chorene, variously dated to the fifth or eighth centuries AD, tells us that they were descended from a Chinese prince who went into exile first in Persia and then in Armenia, two hundred years before his time. Either date is plausible from the point of view of political disorder in China. Armenia was in a favourable position for contact with China. It was the forward point of eastern Christianity, the second Christian state after Osrhoene, on the flank of the silk road and able to use the Caspian. The Chinese, like the Armenians, were on poor terms with the Parthian rulers of Iran, and it may be that in the case of the Cenbakunan, some Chinese diplomatic mission (we know there was a Parthian mission to China in 101) in difficulties at Ctesiphon, took refuge in Armenia and, as civilized men in a barbarous upland, remained to intermarry with its aristocracy and give them the name of their sovereign.
Flora and fauna
In later chapters this category will include not only plants and animals, but also other living things such as insects and the whole range of microorganisms. In antiquity, however,
biological interchange between East and West was confined to plants and animals. As regards plants, the Mediterranean world received the peach and the apricot from China in the classical period, the first via the Persians, the second via the Armenians. Similarly, India received the peach under the Kushan empire where it was known as cinani, thus indicating its Chinese origin. Pears are mentioned in Homer, so they may be presumed indigenous to the Mediterranean, but India first knew them as cinarajaputra ‘fruit of the king of China’ in the Kushan period. Peaches, apricots and pears were the produce of north China and will have travelled by the silk road; the fruit of south China, oranges and lemons did not arrive until later. In the opposite direction, it was by the silk road that China drew its plant imports of this period: grapes, pomegranates, walnuts and alfalfa (lucerne). Grapes were introduced soon after Zhang Qian's expedition. They never held the same position in China as in Europe — Chinese and European tastes in drink diverged — but they enjoyed considerable support from the xenophile Han Wudi. Sima Qian tells us that ‘the lands on all sides of the emperor’s summer palaces and pleasure towers were planted with grapes and alfalfa as far as the eye could see’. Pomegranates are first mentioned in China under the Western Jin, 265-317 and walnuts under the Eastern Jin, 317-420.
Han Wudi’s interest in alfalfa related to horses. It was part of the attempt, long persisted in by him and emperors of subsequent dynasties but ultimately unsuccessful, to introduce to China the great horse of the Iranians. In antiquity there were two types of horses: the tarpan or pony, the domesticated version of the only surviving wild horse Equus przewalskii, found from the British Isles to Manchuria, but bred on the largest scale by the nomadic pastoralists of the steppe; and the cherpadh or arghumaq which was selectively bred in Transoxania and possibly Thrace by sedentary peoples from horse strains distantly related to Grevy’s zebra. The great horse, bred as an aristocrat in a stud, raised on alfalfa and ridden by the expert, professional armoured knight, was the Iranian antidote to the steppe pony, bred and raised in egalitarian profusion on the open range and ridden by men born in the saddle and naturally skilled in the use of the bow. Like the Shah, but unlike the Roman emperor, Han Wudi had steppe enemies. He therefore eagerly grasped at the Iranian antidote as soon as he heard of it from Zhang Qian. But the ‘heavenly horses’ proved elusive. Though China occupied the original breeding grounds when Han Wudi’s brother-in-law, Li Guangli, conquered Ferghana on the second attempt in 101 BC, the difficulties of breeding in the warm Chinese climate prevented acclimatization in China proper. The great horse remained a prized import. The only Western animal successfully acclimatized under the Han was the donkey, introduced to north China from the Middle East by the trail bosses of the silk road. The West imported no animals from China in antiquity
The commodities exchanged between East and West in classical times fell into a pattern of long-distance international trade in textiles, minerals and spices, which lasted until it was broken by the Dutch in the seventeenth century
The two textiles which travelled were Chinese silk and Alexandrian linen. Although there are possible references to silk in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Herodotus and Aristotle, it was not until the late republic that the Roman world became familiar with it, and not until the late empire that it was received in quantity Florus says that the first silks the Romans saw were the Parthian banners at the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, and Lucan and Seneca regarded silk as an expensive exotic. By the end of the fourth century however, Ammianus Marcel-linus could say that all classes at Rome were wearing it, and at Constantinople St John Chrysostom could exclaim, ‘what number of women now wear silken apparel but are indeed naked of the garments of virtue’, while in another homily he tells us that silks are no longer costly. Already there was a difference in the Chinese and Roman use of silk, in their underlying consumer preferences. The Chinese, with their preference for light housing, heavy clothes and concentrated warmth, used silk for brocade, a heavy textile, while the Romans, with their preference for heavy housing, light clothes and diffused warmth, used it for gauze, a light textile. The word gauze derives from Gaza and Lucan (De Bello Civili, x, 141-3) describes how Chinese textiles were unpicked and rewoven to Western tastes by Egyptian craftsmen to produce the Sidonian weave which so upset his uncle Seneca:
"I see silken clothes, if you can call them clothes at all, that in no degree afford protection either to the body or to the modesty of the wearer, and clad in which no woman could honestly swear she is not naked. These are imported at great expense from nations unknown evento commerce j in order that our married women may not be able to show more of their persons to their paramours in a bedroom than they do on the street."
The Roman textiles which reached China are entangled with the term byssus and the story of the water sheep. The Hou Hanshu, written about 450, states, ‘Further, they [the people of Da Qin, the Roman empire] have a fine cloth said to originate from the down of a water-sheep’.This cloth has been assumed to be the byssus of classical texts and variously identified with cotton, a mixture of cotton and linen, or a curious textile spun from the threads of marine molluscs. The principal export textile of Egypt, however, was linen (it was a state monopoly in Ptolemaic times) and the Periplus records exports to Barbaricon of ‘clothing, plain and in considerable quantity’ and to Barygaza of ‘cloth, plain and mixed, of all sorts’. Most likely the Hou Hanshu'sfine cloth was high grade linen, fine having the sense of heavy, i.e. some kind of damask, not so different from the heavier Chinese brocades. The Chinese bought what was similar to their own products, the Romans what was different. Here again is a fundamental contrast of consumer preference.
Trade in textiles between East and West in classical times was never large. Trade in minerals was smaller. However the West received a number of Chinese c~t-iron or steel objects, Pliny’s much admired Seric iron; jade, which is noted as an export from Barbaricon by the Periplus; and cupro-nickel; palaung, if indeed that is whence the Graeco-Bactrian kings obtained the metal for their coinage. Similarly, China may have received its first brass from Persia - an important stimulant to aurifictive alchemy; it probably received substantial quantities of precious metals from the Roman world - Roman coins for the period 14 to 275 have been found in Shanxi; and it certainly received Egyptian silicon and gypsum in the form of Alexandria glass and plaster. Glass was one of the few branches of physical technology where the West was ahead of China and the Hou Hanshu noted with some surprise that in the palace of the Roman emperor ‘the pillars of the halls are made of crystal and so are the dishes on which food is served’.Of these mineral exchanges, the most significant was plaster: the Alexandrian stuccos and. terracottas which were the indispensable vehicle for the iconography of the new religion of Mahayana Buddhism, in the long run the more dynamic form of export Buddhism. Without plaster Mahayana could not have projected its new objects of devotion, the bodhisattvas.
The spice trade in antiquity meant different things in West and East. For the Romans, particularly from the time of Augustus, it meant condiments and food preservatives directed to the sense of taste, though frankincense was subsidiarily important. For the Chinese, particularly from the time of Buddhism, it meant aromatics directed to the sense of smell, though pepper was subsidiarily important. What the Romans obtained from the Chinese world was cinnamon from south China, cloves from Ternate and Tidore, nutmeg from the Bandas - the three most expensive and aristocratic of spices - and ginger from Chekiang, another luxury food. The intercontinental trade therefore was of interest to them and both the Periplus and Pliny pay it considerable attention. What the Chinese obtained from the West was frankincense from the Hadramaut, myrrh from Somalia, storax from Asia Minor, bedellium or gum guggul from the Punjab, putchuk or costus root from Kashmir, and anise from the Mediterranean, all, except for anise which was soon replaced by superior Chinese aniseed from Kwangsi, secondary spices supplementary to the prime indigenous aromatic garoo or aloeswood from Champa. The intercontinental trade therefore was of little interest to them, the Hou Hanshu only referring to it en pa.ssant. As with textiles the foreign was used to reinforce the native rather than replace it.
The technological exchanges between East and West in antiquity illustrate the principle that invention is not the same as development and that development may be more important than invention. One of the glories of pre-modern Chinese technology was its ability to cast iron long before the West could, and its consequent capacity to produce more steel by better methods. Yet the earliest known working of iron was not in China but in Asia Minor where a cuneiform text of 1275 BC of Hattusili III king of the Hittites refers to iron being made. The first reference to iron in China is in 513 BC and the maritime kingdom of Wu seems to have been the main centre for its production in association with salt boiling, so it is hard not to think that the original stimulus came from the West. Similarly, one of the glories of pre-modern Western technology was alphabetical script, and the consequent capacity for an open literacy extraverted to new words, foreign terms and fresh universes of discourse. Yet Edwin G. Pulleyblank has argued that the prototype for the Phoenician alphabet, the ancestor of all other Western alphabets, was the set of Chinese characters known as the heavenly stems and earth branches which today are a cycle of calendrical signs, but in the second millennium BC were an alphabet of initial and final consonants used in a compound script together with pictographs, ideographs and logographs. China therefore invented the principle of the phonetic alphabet, but did not develop it, and in fact eliminated it in her mature script. The West, on the other hand, did not invent the principle, but developed it, by eliminating all other elements in script and by adding the Greek invention of the representation of vowels.
The same disjunction of invention and development occurs in the history of the light horsedrawn war chariot - the weapon of Rameses II, Boadicea, Ben Hur and the Byzantine circus factions.
In the history of the draft horse, there is a discontinuity between the heavy horse cart, the new version of the oxcart, found in Mesopotomia in the third Millennium BC and in the Kazakh steppe in the second millennium, used primarily for transportation, and the light horse chariot which came into use for hunting, war and high-speed travel, right across Eurasia from the seventeenth century BC onwards. The new vehicles were not only lighter and more specialized in use, but they had two spoked wheels instead of four solid ones and their draft animal was always the horse, generally a pair of horses, never the ox, onager or mule. War chariots required a specialized technology to build and operate. They were the product of palace workshops and the weapon of court aristocracy for whom war was a militarized hunt - between equals in ritual combat, or between unequals in relentless slaughter Since the complex of chariot, palace and warrior aristocracy is not found in the steppe by Soviet archaeology and since the earliest mention of light war chariots in the West associates them with the Kassites and the Mitanni, people with at least Indo-European leadership, it may be supposed that the new chariot was invented by the Indo-Europeans as they left the steppe and entered the sedentary world as an army The most likely place is the Merv-Herat region, a known area of early Indo-European penetration, a central point for the rapid diffusion of the chariot east and west, and a locality where Bactrian camels were probably already harnessed to light vehicles. Further, in 1275 BC, Hattusili III wrote to the Kassite ruler of Babylon asking for large horses for his chariotsas his own horses were small. This use of the great horse suggests a central Asian origin for the chariot and it may be that it was the Kassites who introduced the great horse from Ferghana to Nisaea. From Merv-Herat the light chariot spread to China. The closeness in dates, the structural similarity between the chariot of the Shang dynasty and the Indo-European chariot, and the absence of a previous history of the draft horse in China, make independent invention unlikely
Once invented and borrowed, however, the chariot was developed into a superior machine by the Chinese. First, they invented the~ quadriga. The earliest Lndo-European war chariots were drawn by two horses only, as is made plain by Rameses II’s account of the battle of Kadesh. The four-horse chariot is not definitely found in the West until the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III, 744-727 BC. In China, on the other hand, the four is taken for granted in the Shijing which dates back to 1000 BC. Second, probably as a consequence of the greater speed and better lock of the quadriga, the Chinese improved the wheels of the chariot, making them larger, giving them more spokes and, for additional strength, inclining them onto the hub instead of setting them straight, what is known as ‘dishing’. This invention too was transmitted west in an attenuated form during the Assyrian new empire. Third, in the fourth century BC, the Chinese substituted for the unsatisfactory yoke and throat harness derived from the ox, which half-strangled the horse and reduced its tractive power to a third or quarter of its potential, the specifically equine shafts and breast-strap harness which is the precursor of the modern shafts and collar harness. At a blow the Chinese doubled or trebled their horsepower Although China had fewer horses than the West, she utilized them more effectively. Her chariots were larger and faster and their use in war lasted half a millennium longer than in the West. The Hou Hanshu notes smaller chariots as one of the distinguishing marks of the Roman world, for, unlike the quadriga and the dished wheel, shafts and breast-strap harness were not borrowed by the West until after 400 AD.
Thought, it has been argued, does not transplant easily because its meaning depends on context. Nevertheless, method can travel as well as discovery, individual ideas can detach themselves from their systems, and systems can create the contexts they require. Intellectual monads are seldom windowless. These principles are exemplified in the three fields of intellectual interchange between East and West in antiquity: music, alchemy and Buddhism.
One of the by-products of the structuralist revolution in social anthropology has been to underline the importance of music in intellectual history Music, Levi-Strauss has said, along with natural language, myth and mathematics, is one of the four fields to which structural analysis can and should be applied. It has been suggested that the dance is older than speech and that music is mankind’s most primitive communications system. A comparison of different musical traditions is therefore a part of the history of civilizations.
The first serious Western student of Chinese music was the French Jesuit Joseph Amiot, whose De la Musique des Chinois was published in Paris in 1780 in Memoires concernant las Chinois, Vol.VI. Amiot believed that the Chinese scale was based on the same principles as that of Pythagoras; he accepted the traditional very early date for its discovery in China, so he argued that the Western musical tradition was fundamentally derived from that of China. Chavannes, on the other hand, writing in 1895, took a modern critical view of traditional Chinese chronology, had available no musical text earlier than the Huainanzi of c.120 BC, and argued that the Chinese musical tradition was fundamentally derived from the West through the wave of Hellenism accompanying Alexander’s conquests. However, both Amiot and Chavannes were mistaken in believing that the principles of the Chinese and Western gamuts were identical: they were only similar in that both started with the progression 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 relating to octave, fifth and fourth. Their subsequent development was based on different principles: by subdivision of the octave and tetrachord in the West, and by expansion through an alternating series of fourths and fifths from a given fundamental in China. Nevertheless, the origin of the common starting point, the fundamental insight that musical scales can be mathematized, remains a problem. Needham supposes Babylon: the idea then moving east and west to be developed in different ways by Ling Lun and Pythagoras. Since in our schema Babylon is the West, Chavannes would in essence be justified against Amiot though in a more limited way than he supposed. What moved was not a musical tradition, but a principle, a heuristic structure, by which a number of different eurekas might be generated. Furthermore, as both Aristoxenus of Tarentum and Sima Qian were quick to see, it was only a subsidiary principle: mathematization was the autopsy of music rather than its genesis.
The second field of intellectual exchange between East and West in antiquity was alchemy. Here one finds an illustration of the principle that individual ideas can detach themselves from their original systems and recombine with other systems. In antiquity and down to the seventeenth century, alchemy was more than a foredoomed, pre-chemical attempt to turn base ipetals into gold. It was a philosophy and technology of nature, in the East complete in itself, in the West part of a wider metaphysic, Aristotelian, Christian or both. Thus in China, the home of the first alchemical synthesis, the alchemy of the Baobuzi of Ge Hong (c.300 AD) aimed not only at aurifiction (the imitation of gold) and aurifaction (the making of gold) but also at macrobiotics (the extension and intensification of life) either by the elixir, the external drug of immortality, or by the enchymoma, the internally secreted panacea. Similarly, in post-Renaissance Europe, the home of the second alchemical synthesis, what is aimed at, for example in the Rosariurn Philosophorum (c.1550) is not merely the philosophers’ stone ‘gold, silver, jewellery, all medicaments great and small’, but ‘the empress of all honour’, the hermaphrodic symbol of psychological totality, the superordinate self.
Needham has shown that alchemy began in China. References to an elixir (busi jiyao, lit. ‘drug of no death’) and to the art of immortality (busi jidao, lit. ‘way of no death’) are found in the Hanfeizi of the third century BC and remarks in the Shiji and Hanshu indicate that such ideas had been current since 400. Systematic alchemy, i.e. the combination of aurifiction, aurifaction and macrobiotics, is attested by the Shiji and Hanshu stories of the alchemical magicians at the courts of Qin Shihuangdi (221-210 BC), Han Wudi (140-87 BC) and Han Xuandi (73-48 BC). Under the usurper emperor Wang Mang (9-23 AD) alchemy was practically an orthodoxy of state, considerable resources being devoted to the manufacture of drugs and the amassing of gold. In the West, on the other hand, the first alchemical writings were those of the Pseudo-Democritus, datable at earliest to the end of the last century BC, iatrochemistry began only withJohn of Rupescissa (fl.l325—50), and the full mixture of aurifiction, aurifaction, and macrobiotics is not found until the time of Paracelsus in the sixteenth century.
Although alchemy originated in China, its development there may have been stimulated by detached techniques or ideas from quite different systems in the West. First, the probably Persian invention of brass may have been the original stimulus to both aurifiction and aurifaction: to aurifiction if the experimenter knew about the cupellation test for real gold; to aurifaction if he did not, or chose to ignore it. Next, the medical and psychotropic aspect of alchemy may have arisen through contact with the world of shamanism in south Siberia which used fungal hallucinogens, especially the juice of the fly agaric, and hallucinogenic smokes, notably hemp, to induce paranormal states of mind. Finally, acquaintance with arsenic, common to most of early civilized Eurasia but most developed in India, may have helped to bring together the metallurgical and medical halves of alchemy Added in small quantities, arsenic turns copper golden; taken in small doses, arsenic acts as an appetite stimulant, an aphrodisiac and a skin tonic. To early investigators, arsenic must have seemed a vertiable philosopher’s stone, which confirmed the alchemists’ association of physical gold and biological health. The prototypes for alchemy may thus have come from outside the first alchemical system.
To this early eastward movement of ideas there corresponded a later westward movement of ideas detached from systematic Chinese alchemy In Roman Alexandria, alchemy took two forms. There was the purely chemical aurifictive alchemy of a number of third-century papyri. There was the largely mystical aurifactive alchemy of the Corpus Alchemicum Graecum: the Pseudo-Democritus and his successors Maria Prophetissa and Zosimus of Panopolis. Both probably derived from Chinese alchemy via Persian intermediaries (PseudoDemocritus cites Ostanes the Mede as his teacher), but they derived from different parts of it, which it united, but which they held in separation not understanding the original unity of physica and mystica. Both agreed, moreover, in overlooking the medical side of Chinese alchemy. Parts travelled but not the whole. To Iran, per contra, what travelled was not any of the parts, but the whole. Nathan Sivin has argued that the unifying idea of systematic Chinese alchemy was control of time: its acceleration to produce gold, its deceleration to pro(ltlce incorruptibility This notion of time as ontologically ultimate was the doctrine of the Zoroastrian heresy of Zervanism which flourished in the third and fourth centuries, especially under Shapur I and Yazdgard the Sinner, replacing the orthodox Mazdean dualism of Ohrmazd and Ahriman with the monism of Zurvan, cosmic time. Zurvan was an imperfect, unconscious divinity, containing both good and evil and in need of redemption: a view of the Godhead similar to that of the ancient gnostic Valentinus and the modern alchemist C.G. Jung. Zervanism in Iran was associated with Greek philosophy and Indian science but, as far as we know, it had no connection with aurifiction, aurifaction or macrobiotics. It simply took the coping stone of the Chinese system and made it the foundtion of its own. That the two systems were different may be seen from the fact that while Chinese alchemy was highly manipulative, Iranian Zervanism was rigidly deterministic.
The third exchange of ideas between East and West in antiquity, the transplantation of Buddhism from the Kushan empire to China, illustrates how a doctrine born in one milieu can take root in another and create afresh conditions for its propagation. Buddhism first came to China in strength in the second century It came in both its Hinayana and Mahayana forms, exemplified by the two most famous early missionaries, the Hinayanist Parthian prince An Shigao (fl.148-168) and the Mahayanist Kushan pundit Lokaksema (fl.168—188). Neither form was tailored to the Chinese situation, yet both were able to find footholds in it and it was the more alien of the two, Mahayana, which eventually triumphed and imposed its own problematik.
Hinayana was dualist. There was samsara and nirvana, the cosmos and the anti-cosmos. What linked them was the dharma, the momentary elements of experience, neither being nor non-being, which underlay both the illusion of samsara and the reality of nirvana. Hinayana was illuminist, it believed in the possibility of liberation, it was a religion of experience. In all these points except the last, Hinayana was antipathetic to the contemporary Chinese outlook with its naturalistic montsm, its indifference to the problem of appearance and reality, its this-worldy practicality. Yet through this one point of psychotropic experience, Hinayana in its dhyana or yogic form could graft itself on to Taoist alchemical macrobiotics. What the Taoist adept claimed to effect by chemotherapy - by mushrooms, incenses and mineral elixirs - the dhyanct master offered more certainly by psychotherapy - by meditation, autohypnotism and induced trance. As the psychotherapy was more advanced than the chemotherapy, impressive results were achieved and a hearing was gained for the underlying metaphysic. From dhyana one could move to abhidharmna, Hinayana scholasticism.
Mahayana, on the other hand, was non-dualist. It subjected the concepts of samsara and nirvana to a rigorous logical critique and found both wanting: all the dharmas were sunya, empty, that is meaningless, non-computable and antinomous. Mahayana was intellectualist: it denied even the conceptual possibility of liberation, it affirmed the identity of samsara and nirvana on the score of their mutual indiscernability, and it offered not experience but insight, in the form not of a solution but of a dissolution of the problem, liberation from liberation. This critical negativism, ‘all dialectic and no doctrine’,was even more alien to contemporary Chinese thought than Hinayana. The Chinese had no concept of critical philosophy, little logic, and possessed epistemologies which did not distinguish between noema and noecis, content and method. They regarded the Mahayana as simply a cosmology preaching a negative absolute. Yet this misunderstanding allowed Mahayana to graft itself on to the Confucian gnosticism known as xuanxue, the school of the mystery or dark learning as Zurcher calls it, whose doctrine of a metacategorical inn or nothingness, in reality closer to the Hinayana experience of nirvana, bore a superficial similarity to the Mahayana concept of sunyata, emptiness or the surdity of all the dharmas. By the end of the fourth centw-y however, Chinese Buddhists were beginning to see that there was something they did not understand and began to seek not only the authentic Mahayana but also the problematik which underlay it. Thus Sengzhao, 374-414, originally a Confucian gnostic, through contact with the Central Asian Mahayana missionary Kumarajiva, finally reached in his essay ‘Prajna is not Knowledge’) the distinction between cognitional theory and cosmology which had so long eluded Chinese thought. Sengzhao was the first person to have mastered branches of both East Asian and Western thought. His was the first international mind.