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Searches for an Imaginary Kingdom

The trefoil of the writing desk

Lev Gumilev


3. The Road through History

On the Line of the Chinese Wall

Although China came into contact with nomad peoples living north of the Huang He in ancient times, we can only discern the nature of these relations from the third century B.C. This was the time when China was united by the Qin Emperor Shi Huang-di (221 B.C.). At the same time the Chinese Wall was built, separating China and the Great Steppe. The Wall was carried both along China's geographic, and also its ethnographic frontier; the Chinese considered the population north of the Wall "barbarians", different both in origin and in form of life, and politically hostile, for which they had exceedingly good cause. That was where the power of the Hun was formed.

The territory occupied by the Hun, present day Inner and Outer Mongolia, Dzungaria and Southern Siberia, was exceedingly convenient for nomadic herding, since, at the technical level of the day, it could not be used for cultivation. Therefore, the Hun economy was specialised: they had an abundance of meat, hides and pelts, but, like all nomads, required grain and textiles. It was easiest to obtain these items from China by barter, in which the Chinese population very willingly took part; but the imperial government and its advisers stood between the peoples. The Qin and Han emperors required the means to maintain their armies of soldiers and officials and took the trade with the Hun into their own hands; the consequence was that the Hun began to receive considerably less textiles and grain than they needed. [+18] The Hun answer was war and by 152 B.C. they had achieved the opening of the barter-trade market. In 133 the Chinese renewed hostilities and, using their numerical advantage, pushed the Hun north of the Gobi desert. However, {28} attempts to conquer the Hun ended in the complete defeat of a Chinese expeditionary force in 90 B.C. [+19]

A fresh advance by the Chinese on the Hun, beginning in 72 B.C., was effected by diplomacy: the Chinese were able to sow dissension among the nomad tribes and to raise their neighbours against the Hun: the Dzungarian Usuni, the Sayan Dinlin and the Xing'an Wuhuan. Inter-clan warfare which flared up among the Hun themselves in 58 B.C. made Chinese victory easy. One of the claimants to the throne allied himself with China, others perished. In 52 B.C. the Hun recognised the authority of China.

Peace was preserved as long as Chinese authority in the steppe remained nominal, but as soon as the usurper Wang Mang attempted in A.D. 9 to intervene in the internal affairs of the Hun they rose and, tying down the government forces on the frontier, they supported a rising by the "Red Eyebrows", the Chinese peasants heavily oppressed by Wang Mang. The Later Han dynasty, which came to power in A.D. 25, again had to face the "Hun problem". Only the split of the Hun power into the Southern and Northern branches, as well as a union with the Xianbi (Ancient Mongol) tribes occupying Manchuria and the Eastern Trans-Baikal area before the third century, allowed the Chinese to form a coalition which routed the Northern Hun in 93. But all the same the Chinese failed to gain the steppe. Tanshikhai, the leader of the Xianbi, gained a series of victories over the Chinese troops and even transferred military activities to the south of the Chinese Wall. By 177 all the Chinese conquests had been lost.

Naturally, in the time that had passed, Chinese political thought had been fixed on the "Hun problem". Two solutions had been proposed. The historians Sima qian and Ban Gu were opposed to further aggression towards the north. Sima qian considered that the conquest of a country with a completely different climate and features from that in which Chinese were accustomed to live was unrealisable; Ban Gu found the inclusion into the empire of a people different in culture harmful, and the assimilation of the nomads unnecessary to both sides. [+20] But the imperial government did not accept the scholars" opinion and they were arrested. Sima qian was mutilated and freed, but Ban Gu died in prison.

The second concept dominated and was consistently followed by {29} the Han emperors, beginning with Wu-di (140-87 B.C.). This aspired to create a world empire by conquering neighbouring peoples and planting amongst them the Confucian variant of Chinese culture. In pursuit of this programme, Chaoxian (northern Korea), Yue - north and south (in Guangdong and Indochina) - and the nomadic Tibetan tribes about Lake Koko Nor were conquered. War in the north, however, not only turned out to be unsuccessful, but also involved China's complete economic exhaustion. Wonderfully equipped armies at full strength with selected soldiers and often led by very gifted commanders either suffered defeat, or were unable to consolidate the successes they had achieved with difficulty. In the second century A.D. Han China entered a very severe social, economic and political crisis and was unable to fight the nomads successfully.

Military expenditures increased the tax burden on the peasants who finally responded with the rising of the "Yellow Turbans" which broke the power of the Han dynasty (184). The demoralised Han troops were unable to cope with the rising. The aristocrats, members of powerful houses, took the initiative. They conquered the peasants, but then fell out and, at the head of individual armies, set upon one another and for the most part perished in internecine strife. Three who survived founded three kingdoms in the north, south-east and west after tearing China to pieces for half a century (220-80).

Thus the Han Empire fell, one of four world empires (along with the Roman, Parthian and Kushan empires) of antiquity.

This was a real catastrophe for China. Suffice it to say that from 221 to 280 the population declined from 50 million taxpayers to 7.5 million. [+21] The towns lay in ruins. With the coup d'etat of Sima Yan, the landowners and Confucian scholars were replaced by demoralised soldiers who understood the tasks facing their country even less. [+22] The lands beyond the Wall again passed into the hands of the nomads, and bloody feuds between cliques at court placed China on the verge of a new catastrophe.

But perhaps it was not China, but the Hun who were the cause of the bitter war which contributed to the fall of the Han Empire?

{30} There is a very widespread prejudiced opinion that the Hun were wild brigands who offended their quiet, industrious neighbours. This conception rests on the fact that in Europe the Hun were at the head of the numerous tribes of Ugrians, Alans, Antes and Germans and started the Great Migration of Peoples during which the Western Roman Empire fell. Incidentally, here too the Romans were by no means harmless little lambs suffering at the evil hands of the Hun and other barbarians. The barbarians had something for which to avenge themselves on Rome.

The situation in Asia was somewhat different. First of all we note that the Hun strove not for territorial acquisitions, but for the organisation of barter trade on an equal footing. In 200 B.C. at the hamlet of Baideng (in Shanxi) they had surrounded a detachment accompanying the Emperor; they released him after concluding a treaty of "peace and kinship" without any territorial concessions. The Hun based themselves on the view that if they seized Chinese lands, they would not be able to live on them. [+23] They equally calmly accepted the secession of the Usuni who migrated into the Seven Streams area and the Western Tianshan. [+24] But they desperately defended their own lands and when they lost Yinshan "they wept when they passed it". [+25] Their wars with China were not aggressive, but defensive.

Apart from that, the Hun were able to create conditions of life in the steppe a good deal easier than those in ancient China. A report of the official Hou Ying (1st century B.C.) shows that the inhabitants along the frontier oppressed by Chinese officials, the unfree, the criminals and the families of political emigrants dreamed only of going into the steppes, saying that "it is enjoyable to live among the Hun" . [+26] The Hun power had so great a population from various tribes that they formed an independent ethnic unit which the Chinese historians called the "Zilu" tribe. [+27] Assimilation with the original Hun population could not take place since the new arrivals did not enter the Hun clan and tribal system, yet they lived in peace and {31} friendship, helping one another in economic activities and in defence of their country.

It is wrong to think that technical progress is impossible in nomad society. Nomads in general, and the Hun and Turks in particular, invented objects which have now entered into the daily life of the whole of mankind as something indispensable to man. Such a form of clothing as trousers, without which the present-day European cannot imagine the male, were invented by nomads in deep antiquity. The stirrup appeared in Central Asia between 200 and 400. [+28] The original nomad drag on wooden stumps was first replaced by the cart with high wheels, [+29] and then by the pack saddle which allowed the nomads to force mountain ranges overgrown with forest. [+30] Nomads invented the curved sabre which supplanted the heavy straight sword and the improved compound bow which could shoot arrows to a distance of 700 m. Finally, the round yurt was then considered the most perfect type of dwelling.

As regards not only material culture, but mental culture as well, the nomads did not lag behind their sedentary neighbours, though their literature was an oral one. Obviously, it would be absurd to search for Hun scientific theories: even the Greeks borrowed them from the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. The nomads created two genres of tales: the heroic tale and the demonological novella. Both of these were closer to mythology than to literature in our sense of the word, but this was how they perceived reality and expressed their feelings. In other words, for them mythology bore the same functions as literature does for us.

The nomads also perceived history in similar fashion, i.e. unlike we do. It seemed to them a developed clan genealogy; it was not an event or an institution, but a dead ancestor that was the standard. Such an account of generations seems without sense to Europeans, but it too reflects the flow of time, like any system of counting accepted by scholarship. It is simply adapted to other aims and needs which it meets fully. Moreover, we have to remember that we {32} have derived data on the folklore and history of the ancient nomads from ethnographic analogies, fragmentary information and so on, so it is very approximate. On the other hand, their works of art have come down to us as originals and afford us an incomparably fuller impression of what in fact existed in the ancient steppes. Splendid art objects have been uncovered by the excavations of P.K. Kozlov, G.V. Kiselev and S.I. Rudenko; this is the "animal style" which enables us to assert the cultural proximity of the Hun to the peoples of Siberia and Central Asia. [+31] Chinese objects are also often encountered in the barrow burials: silk textiles, bronze objects and lacquer cups. These were everyday articles acquired by the Hun as plunder or tribute, and also produced by the Chinese who had fled to the Hun (the Zilu). But such things by no means define the direction of the culture's development. [+32]

We have dealt with this in such detail so as to reject the philistine opinion of the notorious lack of value of the Central Asian nomadic peoples, allegedly a mere Chinese periphery. [+33] In fact, these peoples developed independently and intensively; only the Chinese aggression of the first century broke off their existence which was, as we have seen, equally tragic for the Hun and for China. But historical retribution was not obliged to wait.

In A.D. 304 the elders of the southern Hun, who had become subject to the Chinese, decided to regain their lost rights by force of arms. Taking advantage of the chaotic administration of the Jin dynasty, they quickly took both Chinese capitals - Loyang and Chang'an - and the whole of Northern China. Following the Hun, Tibetans penetrated into China, the Xianbi-Muyun and Tabghach (Toba). [+34] After bloody struggles among themselves and with the Chinese, who had been driven into the Yangzi basin, the Toba came out on top and founded a mighty empire which officially took a Chinese name - Wei. This state was Chinese in the eyes of the steppe nomads, but barbarian to the Chinese. In essence, though, it {33} started a particular series of frontier formations not to be related to any one culture, though they all consisted of a combination of Chinese and nomadic elements. [+35] This, however, was no longer a clan or tribal power, but a feudal empire with conditional landholding, enserfment of the free population and the distribution of districts in return for service.

In the Wei state, Chinese replaced Toba as the language of administration from 495, and the Xianbi dress and hair style were officially forbidden. Yet all these measures failed to reconcile the Chinese population, conquered by force of arms, with the foreign power. Too weak to organise a rising, the Chinese penetrated into the administration and military. Gradually actual authority was concentrated in the hands of commanders of Chinese origin; in 550 they disposed of the Wei dynasty whose members, including babies at the breast, were hacked into small pieces and thrown into the Yellow River. China again became Chinese, but the descendants of the Tabghach, who had forgotten their native language, continued to live along the Great Wall on the steppe frontier.

A new power arose in the steppe at this time, one considerably more powerful than the Hun. The Great Turkic Kaganate, for the brief period from 550 to 569, united the steppes from the Yellow to the Black Sea and added Central Asia to it, and did this with the agreement of the Sogdian inhabitants. The latter became rich from the caravan trade in silk which they forwarded from China to Europe. As soon as the Turkic khans ceased their internal wars and plunder in the steppe, the Sogdians became their true friends and helpers.

The formation of the Turkic Kaganate, however, was regarded quite differently in China where, in 581, power fell to a clique of landholding Shaanxi magnates led by Yang Jian, founder of the Sui dynasty. The restoration of the former might of the Han empire, and consequently war with the Turks, became the programme of this dynasty. In a word, the collision of the first century was repeated, the only difference being that, instead of inter-tribal quarrels, the Chinese spies (Zhaiang-sun Sheng, Fei Gui) incited feuds between the independent princes of the Turkic ruling clan.

{34} The next three centuries were filled with events mainly concerned with the struggle of the freedom-loving nomads against Chinese aggression. The Turks had dealings with many peoples, but neither Byzantium, nor Iran, still less the Siberian Ugrians, attempted to subordinate them, but limited themselves to establishing diplomatic links and preserving their own frontiers. The Turks, in their turn, when engaged in armed clashes with Persians or Greeks, pursued economic and political aims connected with the caravan trade. These clashes were historically inevitable since the Turks, uniting the Great Steppe, took on themselves the problems of the peoples included in the Great Kaganate. [+36]

Relations between Turks and Chinese took quite a different turn; in China an anti-Turk attitude became the dominant tendency in foreign policy from the sixth century. The establishment of power over Asia, once the aim of the Han dynasty, became the basic task of the Chinese feudal lords and officials. They did not seek, or even wish for, compromise solutions. Even the fall of the Sui dynasty and the troubles borne by their country and people [+37] failed to make the Chinese lords abandon these senseless pretensions. Defeated in a civil war by their own frontier forces, the descendants of the Tabghach, who had established the Tang dynasty with a regime that at first was acceptable to both the Turkic and Chinese people, they diverted policy into its usual channel by intrigues and conspiracies, thus evoking the risings of Kutlug El'teres khan [+38] and An Lushan [+39] which again spilt Chinese blood. In the following century (764-861) the Chinese in vain tried to retain their key positions in the Great {35} Steppe and again achieve dominance. The Uigurs defended the independence of their homeland and the Tibetans took the Chinese forts in Shaanxi (Shenhsi) and prevented even the possibility of revenge. Although neither the Uigur khanate, nor the Tibetan monarchy outlived the Tang dynasty, Chinese aggression had been halted.

The explanation for the alleged stagnation of the Middle Asian peoples lies in this fierce struggle. These peoples were not inferior to Europeans in talent, bravery or intellect, but the Turks and Uigurs spent those forces which others used to develop their culture on the defence of their independence against a numerous, cunning and fierce enemy. For 300 years they had not a moment's peace, but they came out of the war as victors and had defended their native land for their descendants.

No less noteworthy is the non-acceptance of Chinese culture by all the peoples of east Central Asia. The Turks had their own system of ideas which they clearly counterposed to the Chinese one. A period of change of faith in Asia ensued after the fall of the Second Kaganate. The Uigurs then accepted Manichaeism, the Karluk Islam, the Basmil and Ongut Nestorianism, the Tibetans Buddhism in its Indian form, but Chinese ideology did not pass beyond the Great Wall.


Steppe Byzantinism

When we pronounce the word "Byzantium" entirely without explanation or addition, the content of the concept varies. It may be that Byzantium is the Eastern Roman Empire, a relict of one time greatness, in decline over a thousand years. That was how both Gibbon and Le Beau, who called this state Le Bas-Empire, understood "Byzantium", as also did Vladimir Solov`ev. The term may be understood as the Greek kingdom which arose as an antithesis to degenerate antiquity and had its own rhythm of development, its light and shade. That was how Uspenskii, Kulakovskii and Diehl saw it.

Perhaps, though, Byzantium is simply a huge town, a focus of trade and cultivated life which arose on the shores of a blue sea, surrounded by burnt hills where for centuries a semi-wild population pastured goats and gathered olives and grapes. This, too, is a legitimate understanding of the term, but in this work -we want to use a fourth meaning: Byzantium is a culture, unique aid varied, {36} scattered far beyond the state frontiers of the Constantinople empire. Flashes of its golden rays settled on the green valleys of Ireland (Johannes Scotus Erigena), in the dense forests of the Trans-Volga (Nil Sorskii and the non-possessors), in the tropical table-land around Lake Tsan (Aksum) and in the Great Eurasian Steppe, as we shall explain.

In this conception, the term "Byzantium" is not only Constantinople and the country subordinate to it, not only even the Chalcedon creed, but the unity including Orthodox and heretics alike: monophysites and Nestorians, Christians and gnostics (Markionites and Manichaeans, of whom we shall also speak). That these currents of thought contended with one another does not contradict the proposed meaning of the term, for the struggle of ideas and of politics is also a form of link, a kind of development.

From the moment of its origin Christian religious thought diverged into numerous streams of which the majority dried up; but some became mighty rivers. A small group of Judean Christians, i.e. Jews who recognised the arrival of the Messiah, disappeared without trace. On the other hand, Paul's mission, addressed to educated heathens, found many converts. The Hellenes were particularly startled by the idea, then strange to them, of the existence of evil, and they began to interpret it in various ways: those most educated and able to think logically put the responsibility for all the world's injustice and unhappiness on him who had created it and in irritation called him the "demiurge", i.e. the handicraftsman. They considered the demiurge a not very important demon who had created the world and man (Adam) so that Adam might live in ignorance and be the demiurge's plaything. But the wise serpent enlightened Adam and helped him to gain his freedom; for that the demiurge torments the descendants of Adam and Eve.

This school of thought gave rise to gnosticism, a religious and philosophical conception for wise and educated people (from gnosis, knowledge). We need not describe the three main trends of gnosticism: Egyptian, Syrian and Markionite (from the name of the Christian gnostic, Markion), but deal only with the splendid conception of the Persian thinker, Mani (third century), who united Christian, Zoroastrian and even Indian ideas. Mani taught that there exists a "raging darkness", a space of eternal gloom, with clots still darker than its own medium. These accumulations of darkness move randomly, like molecules in Brownian motion; but once, by {37} chance, they approached the limits of their space, the frontier of the "Eternal Light" and attempted to enter it in order to darken the "Kingdom of Light". The bearer of the principle of light, whom Mani calls the "Primal Man" and to whom he ascribes the qualities of Ormuzd, came forth to fight them. The forces of darkness were victorious, tore the "Primal Man" to pieces and shrouded the particles of light, which now languish in captivity, in darkness. Christ came to help these particles, i.e. souls, and after him Mani, the embodiment of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete Comforter. They have come to free souls from matter, crystallized darkness; so it follows that all that is material, all that binds man to the world and to life is sinful.

The Christians struggled against this conception, asserting that the creator of the world is good and that the world he created is beautiful. Monistic systems arose to counterbalance gnosticism: neoplatonism, asserting that matter is nothing (meon) and the world is an outflow from God's ribs, the plenitude of all that is; and Christian monism in the teaching of Origen who taught that after the end of the world and the Day of Judgement the devil, by God's mercy, will be forgiven.

By the fourth century Orthodox thought had acquired individual elements of all these conceptions and had crystallised into a particular philosophical system. But then new difficulties began to be encountered, purely theological, not philosophical ones, which were reflected in fierce struggles at the ecumenical councils.

Four trends appeared in Christian thought: the Arian which was widespread among the German tribes; the Nestorian which was most important for our subject; the monophysite which arose as the antithesis of Nestorianism; and the Chalcedon (from the place where the Fourth Council took place) which became the dominant confession of the Byzantine Empire.

Hither Asia was the volcano of freethought in the first centuries A.D. Early in the fourth century, the Alexandrian presbyter Arius preached that Christos-Logos was less than his father, for he was the son and, so, born. The Archbishop Alexander and his deacon, Athanasius, rebutted Arius, pointing out that the word made flesh is inapplicable to a divine being, and accused him of the heresy of Paul of Samosata who taught that Christ was a man endowed with heavenly wisdom. The dispute rapidly turned into a civil war, and some emperors supported Arius, others the Orthodox. At the same {38} time, the gnostics, neoplatonists and Mithraists preached their teachings and each struggled against all the others.

We should not think that the representatives of these teachings were insincere in the adherence to the creeds of their faith. In those days, the demand for a logical view of the world was very acute. [+40] Of course, it was not chance that the most rational and literal interpretations of religious dogma were linked with the Antioch school, philosophical ones with the Alexandrian, and emotional and aesthetic ones with the Constantinople where the Hellenic element predominated among the population. But we have no need to deal further with the upheavals of religious struggles in the Roman Empire and can focus our attention on the penetration of the Far East and the limitless expanse of the Great Steppe by this seething, burning thought. [+41]

After the thinker and writer, Mani, declaring himself the heir of Christ and Paracletus, tormented by the Mobeds, the Zoroastrian clergy, had accepted a martyr's crown in 277 at Gundishapur, the residence of the Persian shah, his followers were obliged to flee from Persia; but in the West Manichaeism was subject to constant persecution and went underground. [+42] In the East the Manichaes found refuge in Trans-Oxania and in the oases along the great caravan route. [+43]

The Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, imprudently declaring that "God has no mother", was anathematised at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. Those who had vanquished him immediately fell out among themselves, but both monophysites and Orthodox Chalcedonites were unanimously impatient of Nestorian-ism. Enmity intensified particularly after 434 when, at a council in Bit-Zapat, Nestorianism was recognised as the dominant creed of the Persian Christians, including the members of the Merv metropolitanate. The Persian shah's support for the Byzantine Nestorians was fateful. In 489 the Emperor Zeno confirmed the condemnation of the Nestorians and closed the Edessa school {39} where the Nestorians taught their faith. The school transferred to Persia, to Nizib, and a Nestorian patriarchate arose in Ctesiphon in 499 and flourished in the sixth century. [+44]

From Persia the Nestorians spread widely throughout Eastern Asia. In the sixth century the Christians preached their faith with some success among the nomad Turks. Turks captured by the Byzantines at the battle of Balyarat in 591 had a tattooed cross on their lips and explained that this had been done on the advice of Christians living among them as a means of avoiding plague. [+45] This fact does not tell us anything about the spread of Christianity among sixth-century nomad Turks, but it does allow us to assert the presence of Christians in the steppe.

In 636 Nestorianism penetrated into China and was greeted benevolently by the government. [+46] The first Tang emperors, Tai-zong and Gao-zong, protected the Christians and allowed them to build churches. During the usurpation of the throne by the empress Wu Ze-tian who had links with the Buddhists, persecution of the Christians started, but the usurper was rapidly deprived of power by the adherents of the Tang dynasty. In 714 the emperor Xuan-zong decreed the prohibition of Buddhism in the empire, and in 745 allowed the preaching of Christianity. [+47] From this time Nestorianism began to spread in Dzungaria, which was under the control of the Tang empire, and to make converts among the nomads, mainly the Basmil, but for quite a long time its success was small.

The spread of Nestorianism encountered opposition not from local religions, which had entered a decline after the fall of the Turkic Kaganate, but from proselytizing religions like itself: Buddhism, Islam, Manichaeism and Bon. For a long time the first two religions had no followers in the steppe. Ton'yukuk hindered Buddhist propaganda on the grounds that "the Buddha's teaching makes people weak and makes them love their fellow men". [+48] The Turgish khan Aulu replied to the emissary of the caliph Hisham {40} (723-43): "there are no barbers, smiths or tailors among my warriors; if they become Muslim and follow the rules of Islam, where will they gain their livelihood?" [+49] Islam seemed to the nomads an exclusively urban religion, and they reacted to it in the same way as the Arabian Bedouin did a century ago. But the Manichaes, driven from Chinese possessions by the emperor Xuan-zong m 732, [+50] found adherents among the Uighurs and supported khan Moyuncur in a burdensome internal war. [+51]

In so far as the Christians were opponents of the Uighur khan, after his victory he inclined to the side of the Manichaes who had supported him. Soon the Uighurs became a theocratic power where the Manichaen community ruled. [+52] Only military affairs were left to the khan.

The Manichaes, once in power, displayed such religious intolerance [+53] that they quarreled with all their neighbours: Tibetan Buddhists and followers of Bon, Siberian shamanists, Muslim, Chinese and, of course, Nestorians. We shall not here follow the political history of Uighuria, but only note that when this land was crippled by the Kirghiz in 840-7, the Manichae community perished with it. [+54] Deserted after the Uighurs had left for the south, the steppes were gradually settled by Mongol-speaking tribes. The cultural tradition was for a time broken, but as soon as some sort of order had been established Nestorianism simply flooded Central Asia.

But in China, where Nestorianism had been tolerated from 635, [+55] the Tang government issued a special decree in 845 declaring it {41} illegal, along with Buddhism and Manichaeism. This event coincided with the destruction of Uighuria whom China had hitherto needed as an ally and who had protected the interests and life of the nomads living within the confines of the Middle Empire. [+56] The Christians resisted the persecutions which followed the decree much more than did the Buddhists and Manichaes. But the position of Christianity in China was greatly undermined. In 987 a Christian monk who had returned to Constantinople from the Far East said that "the Christians in China have disappeared and been destroyed for various reasons and that he alone had escaped". [+57] We may be sure that there is exaggeration here and that fragments of Nestorianism remained on the northern frontier of China until the early eleventh century when the second wave of Christian expansion which concerns us developed in the Far East.

Buddhism survived the onslaught much more successfully than did Christianity. Even Manichaeism was not entirely suppressed, although in order to survive it resorted to deceit. Manichaes began to pretend to be Buddhists. At first, this was conscious mimicry; it was impossible, in fact, for every convert to explain that he was entering a community, forbidden by the government, disguised as Buddhist, but really Manichaen. Converts could not but be repelled by such interpretations, and they would encourage betrayal. Thus, passing themselves off as Buddhists and observing the appropriate decorum, the Chinese Manichaes gradually fused with the Buddhists, and even such scholars as Biruni ceased to distinguish them. [+58] This mixing was particularly intense in the regions where subsequently the Tangut kingdom arose: Manichaen deities of the luminous heavens have been discovered in Buddhist form on Qaraqoto icons. [+59]

So, as regards the struggle for their views of the world, the influence of Chinese and Muslim cultures in the steppe was limited and was halted by Byzantine culture understood in the broadest sense. {42} And the most curious aspect of this phenomenon was the fact that the success of "steppe Byzantinism", i.e. the penetration of the steppe by Christianity and Manichaeism, cannot be subsumed under the heading of "cultural influences". Any influence supposes some form of compulsion, be it moral, intellectual or emotional. The nomads, however, were always very sensitive to any form of compulsion and were able to beat it off very successfully. The Byzantine Empire was far from the steppes of Central Asia, it did not, and could not, put pressure on the nomads Furthermore, the preaching of Christianity among the nomads was carried out by those who, in Byzantium, were considered heretics. Therefore, the dissemination of Christianity in the steppes was not a "cultural influence", but a transplanting of ideas.

The universahsm of Christianity, in which there is "neither barbarian, nor Scythian, nor Hellene, nor Jew", found acceptance in the nomad world because it did not treat the nomads slightingly as people of less than full value and did not lead to their subordination to a foreign ruler, whether the "Son of Heaven" or the "Vice-regent of the Prophet". On the contrary, though, the victory of "Chinese humanism", [+60] i.e. the attempt by the Chinese to rid themselves of foreign elements in their culture, resulted in violence to their defenceless subjects and so failed to sweep across the Chinese Wall.

By 1000 Nestorianism had disappeared in China. [+61] The Song government declared a war of religion as such and conquered But whom? A handful of monks and a few frontier half-breeds seeking consolation and peace. The Chinese Nestonans who survived fled to the steppe, and from that moment Nestorianism became an anti-Chinese force much more powerful than it had been before the persecution.

Now let us pose a critical question is that really how we should understand the fate of creeds and opinions? What sort of significance does this have for the fall of China, the rise of Western Manchuria, for abandoned Uighuria, for the influx into the Tangut kingdom? What will the study of religious movements give us, rather than a critique of social and economic relations which are only dealt with in passing in this work? It will give us much, for ideological systems are nothing but an indicator of deep processes -economic, social and ethnogenetic. Fantastic mythologies are foam {43} on the wave, but it is by the foam that we judge the depth of the river and the speed of the current. Of course, this is a roundabout route. But what are we to do if the direct one is impassable for lack of information? There is good reason for the tenth to eleventh centuries to be called a "dark" age; it was entirely passed over in silence by the chroniclers. Earlier we posed the problem of overcoming the falsity of the sources, something, of course, not at all easy to do. But how can we tear aside the veil of silence? How can we find a firm point for our investigation with a complete absence of direct information? That is a task which is beyond the capabilities of the inductive method.

Deduction gets its turn. If we gather the fragments of information and locate them in space and in time, i.e. on the historical map and in a synchronic table, the contours of the "gaps" will be narrowed and the possibility of approximately completing them will appear. But for this it is essential to observe the indicator, i.e. the fluctuating successes of the religious advocacy of conflicting systems of thought and attitudes.

Next, let us pose a second, auxiliary problem: who is guilty of this conspiracy of silence - historical reality itself which did not give birth to events worth describing, or chroniclers who neglected their responsibilities? The reply to this was given by Chinese historians as long ago as 874. "At this time China began to be shaken by anarchy [a reference to the disturbances resulting in the fall of the Tang dynasty - L.G.] and had little time to engage in foreign relations with neighbouring people [this implies that geography, which flourished under the Tang thanks to active support by a government with pretensions to hegemony over Asia, declined as soon as these pretensions were not realised - L.G.], which is why the information of the Chinese on the restoration of the House of Khoikhu [Uighuria] is brief and fragmentary". [+62] Yet even after the restoration of order and centralisation in China - 960 - information on the nomads is just as poor right down to the period of Chingghiskhan. Our roundabout route gives us the possibility in part of filling this lacuna in history. And this is how.

In the century 860-960, almost the cruellest one for China's class society, there were frequent occasions when the individual's social position changed, sometimes several times, in the course of his life. {44} The demoted commander became a poor labourer, the successful brigand became a prince, for a timely denunciation a servant became a powerful feudal lord and, with a shift in power, became a peasant.

On the other hand, each individual, being alone, felt defenceless. Since, at this time, adherence to the family or a particular circle, or even to a political group, played no part, because betrayal had become commonplace, each man needed to seek those close to him if only in spirit. Entering a particular religious community he found himself among people whom he could trust because he chose the community according to his tastes and inclinations. Often such communities coincided with specific territorial and political units. For example, the Buddhists tended towards Tangut or Khitan, the Christians to Uighurs or Shato. In course of time, incorporation changed the ethnic composition of the group out of recognition. That is why, when we compare the ethnographic map of Asia in the ninth with that in the thirteenth century, the first thing that strikes us is their lack of coincidence. Of course, migration of tribes had also taken place over these three hundred years, but this only affected the northern fringe of the Great Steppe; the ethnic transformation of its mass took place as a result of the fortunes of history, i.e. a logical change the mechanism of which we have sketched in outline.

But this mechanism itself gave rise to religious intolerance. It was stimulated not by the dogmas of complex and elaborate theodicies, but by simple hostility to another group of people, by personal relations, and then extended to the whole system of religious views. Chinese nationalists, the champions of Confucianism and enemies of any mysticism, including their own - Tao - were particularly active in this regard. Let us see what they achieved.



[+18] L.N. Gumilev, Khunnu, 88-9.

[+19] Ibid, 139-42.

[+20] Ibid, 4.

[+21] N.Ya. Bichunn, Sobranie svedenie po istoricheskoi geografii, 658.

[+22] L.N. Gumilev, Troetsarstvie v Kitae", Doklady otdelenii i komissii Geograficheskogo obshchestva SSSR, fasc 5, 1968.

[+23] N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii o narodakh, 1, 51.

[+24] L.N. Gumilev, Khunnu, 86.

[+25] N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii o narodakh, 1, 95.

[+26] Ibid , 94.

[+27] E. Chavannes, "Les pays d'Occident d'apres le Wei-Lio", T'oung Pao, ser. 2, VI, 1905, 522-6

[+28] K.A. Wittfogel and Feng Chia-Sheng, History of Chinese society, Liao (907-1125), New York, 1949, 505.

[+29] S.V. Kiselev, Drevnyaya istoriya yuzhnoi Sibiri, 161, S.I. Rudenko, Kul'tura naseleniya Gornogo Altaya v skifskoe vremya, 229, 232-4, illustrations, 143, 144, 145, 146.

[+30] G.E. Grumm-Grzhimailo, Istoricheskii atlas Mongolii, manuscript in Arkhiv Geograficheskogo obshchestva SSSR.

[+31] S.I. Rudenko, Kul`tura khunnov i Noinulinskie kurgany.

[+32] S.I. Rudenko, L.N. Gumilev, "Arkheologicheskie issledovaniya P.K. Kozlova v aspekte istoricheskoi geografii", Izvestiya Vsesoyuznogo geograflcheskogo obshchestva, 1966, No 3, 241-3.

[+33] See Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1962, No 3, 202-10, cp. Narody Azii i Afriki, 1962, No 3, 196-201.

[+34] See N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii po istoricheskoi geografii, 658-62, Shan Yue, Ocherki istorii Kitaya, 142-3, R. Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes, 55-6.

[+35] Among them we number the Tang and Liao (Khitan) empires which lost their connection with the steppe, but not the Yuan and Jurchen Jin which relied on their homelands until their decline.

[+36] M.I. Artamonov, Istoriya khazar, 133f.

[+37] Shan Yue, Ocherki istorii Kitaya, 188-97.

[+38] It is essential to take into account that all the conquests of the Tang Empire, in the west and in the east, were carried out by nomads who named the actual founder of the dynasty the "Tabghach (l e Toba) khan" (see L N Gumilev, Drevnie tyurki, 221), since he was descended from Turkic stock (N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii o narodakh, I, 355). Yet his successor, Gao-zong (650-83), very rapidly lost what his father had achieved with such difficulty by returning to the policy of traditional Chinese arrogance. The consequence was the creation of the Second Turkic Kaganate (679-745) and China's loss of its now ephemeral leadership in East Asia (G E Grumm-Grzhimailo, Zapadnaya Mongoliya, n, 218).

[+39] An Lushan, the son of a Sogdian and a Turkic princess, made his career in the Tang army, rising from an ordinary soldier to a general. In 756 he led a mutiny by three corps made up to strength with nomads and which formed the strike-force of the army. After the movement had been suppressed in 763, China was unable to continue an aggressive policy and went over to the defence.

[+40] "Both Arians and Orthodox accused one another of illogicality; an appeal to reason was a feature of their quarrel" (Istoriya Vizantii, I, 169).

[+41] Even before the Anan quarrels Christianity had been preached in Central Asia, since the first mention of a bishopric in Merv is dated 334 (R. Grousset, Histoire de l'Extreme-Orient, I, 353). From 420 it became a metropolitanate.

[+42] F. Cumont, La propagation.

[+43] V.V. Bartol'd, O khristianstve v Turkestane, 6,18.

[+44] N. Pigulevskaya, "Mar-Aba I", Sovetskoe vostokovedenie, V.

[+45] Feofilakt Samokatta, Istoriya, 130-1.

[+46] P. Pelliot, "Chretiens d'Asie Centrale et d'Extreme-Orient", T`oung Pao, 15, 1914.

[+47] See, for example, R Khennig, Nevedomye zemli, 105, P Y Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Reliefs in China, 457.

[+48] N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii o narodakh, I, 274.

[+49] V.V. Bartol'd, O khristianstve v Turkestane, 9.

[+50] R Grousset, Histoire de l'Extrime-Orient, I, 352

[+51] L.N. Gumilev, Drevnie tyurki, 382.

[+52] E. Chavannes et P. Pelhot, "Un traitd manicheen retrouve en Chine", Journal Asiatique, 1913,1

[+53] For example, they called the Buddha a devil (see, E. Chavannes et P. Pelliot, "Un traite manicheen", 193) and depicted in their temples a demon with the Buddha washing its feet (V.P. Vasil`ev, "Kitaiskie nadpisi v orkhonskikh pamyatnikakh", Sbornik trudov Orkhonskoi ekspeditsii, III, 23).

[+54] L.N. Gumilev, Drevnie tyurki, 428-31 Thus, ibn Bahr informs us that m the mid-9th century "Zoroastrian and Zindik" Turks live in the Uighur capital, but in the tenth century the occurrence of a Mamchaean temple in Uighuria was regarded as exceptional (A.Yu. Yakubovskii, "Arabskie i persidskie istochniki ob uigurskom Turfanskom knyazhestve v IX-X vv", Trudy otdela Vostoka Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, IV, 1947,428, 435).

[+55] P. Pelliot, "Chretiens", 624.

[+56] J. Marquart, "Guwaini's Bencht uber die Bekehrung der Uiguren", Sitzungsbenchte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil-hist Kl , 27, 1912, 480, E. Chavannes et P. Pelliot, "Un traite mamicheen", 284f.

[+57] A. Moule, Christians in China before the year 1550, 76, P. Pelliot, "Chretiens", 626

[+58] K. Wittfogel and Feng Chia-Sheng, History, 308.

[+59] S.M. Kochetova, "Bozhestva svetil v zhivopisi Khara-Khoto", Trudy otdela Vostoka Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, IV, 1947, 471-502.

[+60] N.I. Konrad, Zapad i Vostok, 127.

[+61] P. Pelliot, "Chretiens", 626.

[+62] N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii o narodakh, I, 338-9.


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