Russian Expeditions to Central Asia and the Discovery of the Desert Ruins of Khara-Khoto

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Photograph by 垂柳夕阳(金仲友), 美篇号 465038

Monday, January 30, 2023
11:30 AM - 12:45 PM
Fowler A222

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The late 19th and early 20th centuries were truly an age of exploration in Central Asia, when Western explorers and archaeologists surveyed China’s peripheries both geographically and culturally. The vast territory of Central Asia, inhabited by numerous nomadic and agrarian peoples speaking different lan­guages and combining features of Buddhist, Muslim and Eastern Christian religions in their cultures, was seen as one of the last unexplored regions of the globe: foreign expeditions probed the region in order to make their mark in the exploration of the world. Several fortunate archaeological finds of manuscripts and printed books led to the birth of unique fields of knowledge, such as Dunhuang studies, Tangut studies, Uighur studies, and Turkic runic epigraphy. Underpinning such enthusiastic scientific interest was a political and military rivalry between two major colonial empires, Britain and Russia. This colonial competition, commonly known today as «The Great Game», was also mirrored in the fields of archaeology and geography, and in the race for manuscripts and vestiges of forgotten civilizations.
This talk will introduce the sensational discovery of the desert ruins of Khara-khoto in the early part of the 20th century and the excavation of the library of Tangut books, presently deposited in the Institute of Oriental Manu­scripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in St. Petersburg.

Dr. Julia Mylnikova is a historian of premodern China, specializing in the Tang and Song eras (7th-13th centuries) with an emphasis on the history, gender studies, and art of the Tangut state Da Xia (982-1227). Her scholarly contributions to the field aim to forge radically new methodologies promoting a multifaceted understanding of China and the Sinophone world, grounded in the critical appraisal of the living past in China’s present. She is currently a Getty Research Institute residential Scholar for 2022-2023, where she is working on a digital humanities project entitled The Tanguts: Searching for a Lost Civilization on the Silk Road.

This talk will be given in-person during the second half of  Art History C149.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies