Kingly Exchange: The Silk Road and the East Eurasian World in the Age of Fragmentation (850-1000)
AbstractThis dissertation is a cultural history of travel on the Silk Road in East Eurasia in the ninth and tenth centuries from the vantage point of Dunhuang, an oasis town situated between China proper and Central Asia. Following the near-simultaneous fall of the Tibetan empire, the Uyghur empire, and the Tang empire in the mid-ninth century, the East Eurasian world experienced a long period of political fragmentation. Such political fragmentation, together with the collapse of the extensive Sogdian diasporic network around the same time, is generally considered to have resulted in a relatively inactive period of travels on the Silk Road. In this dissertation, by examining medieval manuscripts in Chinese, Tibetan, Uyghur, Khotanese, and Sogdian discovered in the sealed library-cave in Dunhuang and reading them in the contexts of transmitted Chinese texts produced in China proper, I argue that activities on the East Eurasian Silk Road during this period of political fragmentation not only persisted, but also took on a distinct and non-commercial form.
Informed by anthropological theories on gift exchange and hospitality, I argue that trans-regional travels in my sources were primarily the results of state endeavor: travelers were predominantly described as state envoys rather than private merchants, and that these envoys participated not in economic networks of commodified exchange, but in diplomatic networks of competitive gifting. That is to say, contrary to widespread assumptions about the Silk Road as a busy trading highway, the movements of people and goods in the area under my investigation were motivated primarily by the royal pursuit of glory rather than interest in profit. Political fragmentation and the presence of a much greater number of state entities in East Eurasia in the ninth and tenth centuries only enhanced such pursuit. Through investigating the non-commercial aspect of travel and the mechanism of negotiating social life on the road, I argue that the networks of competitive diplomacy through long-distance personnel and material exchange were as effective as commercial networks in facilitating trans-regional connections on the Silk Road.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:40046558
- FAS Theses and Dissertations