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Interdisciplinary Analyses

Madhavi Thampi

Edited by Dorothy C. Wong  and Gustav Heldt
Manohar Books,New Delhi, 2014, pp. 441, Rs. 3500.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

This is a splendid book on cultural interactions across Eurasia from approximately the 3rd-10th centuries CE. In keeping with its title, the book itself crosses many boundaries—disciplinary, national and conceptual—to provide us with an awe-inspiring picture of the ‘different forms of transmissions, transgressions, hybridizations, dialectic encounters, syntheses, and transformations that occurred when peoples and cultures came into contact’ (Introduction, p. 16). Although the focus is on China, the canvas is actually much wider, covering West, South, South East, Central and North East Asia, together with Europe. The subject matter encompasses diverse elements of social life and material culture, including art and iconography, ritual practices, literature, science and technology, trade, diplomacy, gender and rulership. Each of the studies is a model of scholarship in its own specific field, as testified to by the impressive bibliographies of primary and secondary sources appended to each essay. While this means that from the point of view of the non-specialist reader, some parts of the book make for difficult reading, it also means that the important insights provided by this book, which illuminate a whole range of issues, stand on a solid bedrock of scholarship. China and Beyond can be seen as a product of the current emphasis in academia on a world scale, which rejects national and disciplinary limitations on scholarship, and lays greater stress on cross-disciplinary understanding and inter-regional connections. As the Epilogue by David Summers points out, ‘in a world of vastly greater contact and interdependence,’ there is an ‘ever-growing interest in connections, and a corresponding decrease in putative cultural essentialisms’ (p. 425). Nevertheless, it is rare to find such an array of diverse studies on this theme (twenty-one in all) in one volume. The editors have done a commendable job of pulling it all together in their Introduction. The essays have been grouped together under the rubrics ‘Networks of Exchange’, ‘Silk Road Crossings’, ‘Textual Centres and Peripheries’ and ‘Buddhist Art and Iconography’. This book is valuable for the general reader because it helps to undermine several questionable historical and cultural stereotypes. One of these concerns the nature and significance of the so-called Silk Road. As several of the studies make clear, the extent and diversity of the commercial and cultural transmissions across Eurasia are not adequately conveyed by the term ‘Silk Road’, which privileges one route (the overland route from China to Europe) and one commodity (silk). As Summers’s ...

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