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Heinz-Asia as Cultured Space

Heinz-Asia as Cultured Space - CAROLYN HE/sz AS" cu...

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Unformatted text preview: CAROLYN HE/sz AS": cu WAS/Dace... HSIA ”4-— -—l€/é7 o/flswg mm m (ULTUMD SWIG: .mwwrr...,,i. . W. n the fourteenth century, a Japanese scholar named Chikafusa sum- I marized the knowledge of Asian landforms that had come to Japan from ancient times: four great continents float in four great oceans. The southern continent is Jambu, named for a tree twelve hundred miles high that stands on the shore of a lake at the top of Mt. Anav- atapta in the center of the continent. Just south ofMt. Anavatapta are the Himalayas, and south of them lies India, in the true heart of Jambu. To the northwest of India is Persia, and to the northeast is China. Because this was not an age when the Japanese deferred to China, Chikafusa added with a sniff: “China is thought to be a large country, but compared to India it is a remote and small land on the periphery of Jambu” (Varley 1980). Japan, on the other hand, was the “central land” in the ocean between Jambu and the eastern continent, a land apart ruled by a line of sovereigns descended from gods. Asia’s landscape has everywhere been overlaid with meanings, both sacred and political. The Ganges River, sacred from source to mouth, comes tumbling out of heaven and is caught in Shiva’s matted locks to release the waters slowly from his Himalayan abode on Mt. Kailash, thus preventing destruction of the earth by floods. Asian rulers sought to build their capitals at the central axis where heaven and earth connect, a fit ting and authoritative location for a king. Throughout Southeast Asia, the Himalayan “pillar of the universe,” Mt. Meru (known to Chikafusa as Mt. Anavatapta and to Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists as Mt. Kailash), was reconstructed in capital afler capital to assert the divinity of the god king who resided there. As the above examples show, India plays a central role in most Asian mytho-geographies. What is surprising is that India plays a central role in modern geophysics as well. THE “GREAT COLLISION" AND ASIAN LANDFORMS In China, when the earth shook, it was taken as an ominous sign of Heaven’s displeasure with earthly regimes; when such regimes toppled, such a heavenly sign was later interpreted as a forewaming. In 1556, an earthquake near Xian (then the capital Chang-an) killed 830,000 peo- ple; seventy years later, when another earthquake shook the new capital, Peking, the court astrologer said ominously: “The reason why the earth growls is that throughout the empire troops arise to attack one another, and palace women and eunuchs have brought about great dies 13 14 Chapter Two Map 2.1 Physical Map of Asia order” (Lach 1965). The omen was fulfilled fifteen years later when China was conquered by the Manchus. Modern science interprets those disasters differently All the great earthquakes of India, China, Mongolia, and Tibet are caused by one colos- sal event: the slow-motion collision of India with the Eurasian continent that has been going on for 10 million years without interruption (Molnar & Tapponnier 1977). Riding on its own tectonic plate, India broke off from East Africa and drifted northeastward, traveling five thousand kilome- ters before beginning its collision with Eurasia. Isolated in the Indian Ocean during the emergence of mammals in the Eocene, it was only after the beginning of the collision 10 million years ago that mammals from Mongolia swarmed down into the subcontinent. The collision radically altered Asia’s landforms, compressing and distorting the earth’s crust from the Himalayas to Siberia, and from Afghanistan to the China coast. Where Tibet and North India are now, there was once a low-lying coast and submerged continental shelf. Collid- ing with such force that India slid under the Eurasian crust and lified up the Tibetan Plateau, the continent continued to shove northward another Asia As Cultured Space 15 The Highest Mountains in the World Country Elevation in feet Everest China—Nepal 29.029 K2 China-Pakistan 28,251 Kancheniunga India-Nepal 28,207 Dhaulagiri Nepal 26,811 Annapurna Nepal 26,503 Muztag China 25,338 Tirich Mir Pakistan 25,230 Pik Kommunizma Tajikistan 24,590 Pobeda Peak China-Kyrgyzstan 24,406 The highest mountains in the world are in the ranges created by the collision of India and Eurasia: the Himalayas. Hindu Kush, Pamir, Kunlun Shan, and Tien Shan. two thousand kilometers, and continues its northward push at the same rate of five centimeters a year. It is unclear where exactly the suture oi the two continents lies, but several features of the geology of the Tibetan Plateau are becoming clearer. Five major fault lines rim the plateau in an east-west direction. In the north, the Altyn rFagh and Kansu corridor is a strike-slip fault iike the San Andreas Fault of California, clearly vis— ible in satellite photographs and traceable for more than twenty—five hundred kilometers. The southern block is moving eastward and tin. northern block is moving westward. Portions of the former ocean floor have been lifted high and dry in central Tibet, a plateau four thousand meters in altitude known as Chang Tang, drained by no rivers and con taining only brackish lakes that are the remnant of the ancient Tethys Sea. The mountains south of the Tibetan Plateau are the old northern portion of India, stacked up slice upon slice, the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas. The Tibetan Plateau was squeezed like an accordian by the impact and at the same time stretched eastward, orc- ating deep east-west gashes that became rivers draining the Him alayas across China and down into Southeast Asia. The plateau that was pro- duced at the point of collision isolated India from Siberian winter winds. and isolated central Asia from the moderating influences of the south“ ern oceans. North of the Tibetan Plateau, stretching from the Karakorum Pass into India to the famous Kansu corridor into China proper, lies a desic cated region of arid grasslands, dry hills, and sheerest desert. If it were not for the barrier of the Himalayas, this region would be no more extreme than Nebraska, another continental heartland at the same laii 16 Chapter Two 2.i Mapping the Himalayas Prior to 1865, surveyors had not been able to verify their suspicions that the Himalayas were the highest mountains in the world—a prediction first made as early as 1784 by Sir William Jones, the brilliant founder of the Asiatic Society, after he had gazed upon distant peaks from the plains of Bengal. [European geographers believed the Andes were the highest mountains in the world] By 1865 the British were standing at the gateways to Nepal and Tibet without hope of entry into the Himalayan fastness. The two states were blanks on the map. Nepal was officially barred to them by treaty, while in Tibet the Chinese Emperor had long declared that all feringheesrfor- eigners—were unwelcome. Anyone who got through in disguise might well be beheaded on the spot. And so the indefatigable officers of the Survey trained lndians to go where they could not. These intrepid explorersimore than fifteen in allfibecame known as the Pundits, or teachers. after the best known of them, Naian Singh. For over fifteen years in various guises they tramped the immense bare plateau of Tibet. Before they went forth they had to be trained. The Survey intended them to take surreptitious measurements of distance, latitude and height. The favorite disguise was that of a Buddhist lama, or priest. A sergeant- major drilled Naian Singh with his pace-stick until he could walk at a precise paceeexactly two thousand steps to the mile. A hundred-bead rosary (instead of the usual 108 beads) allowed him to count his paces, and inside his prayer-wheel constructed in the Survey workshops, were compasses for taking bearings while at prayer. In the false bottom of his traveling chest was a sextant, and inside sealed cowry shells mercury for his artificial horizon. Naian Singh‘s salary was a paltry 20 rupees a month. When a British surveyor returned to one of these peaks in 1911 he found the raised survey platform and finely chiselled markstone firmly in position. Nearby was a ruined stone shelter, in the cornerr of which lay a human sketeton. Simon Berthon and Andrew Robinson, 1991, pp. 145—49. tude. The Gobi Desert is the best-known section of this harsh land, too dry for wheat cultivation, where sheep herding is the best option for sur- vival. The Gobi is a graben, a sunken region where crustal blocks are being stretched and pulled apart by the pressures of the Indian colli- sion. Harsh as the Gobi is, to the west is a far worse place, the dreaded Taklamakan. The Chinese knew the Taklamakan as the tiu she, or “Moving Sands,” but “Taklamakan” is Turki, meaning, “go in and you won’t come out.” Even as recently as 1950 a traveler wrote: “Never once until we reached the plains were we out of sight of skeletons. The con- mvmpw—um-w—w - Asia As Cultured Space 17 The Thhlamakan was the most treacherous stretch of the Silk Road. The road split into a northern and southern route, with oasis towns along the way and numerous minor rulers who controlled stretches of the region. Many of these towns were swallowed up in the sands, as were rivers flowing from the mountains to disappear into the heart of the desert. The caravan in the photo above is that of the great explorer; Sir Aurel! Stein. tinuous line of bones and bodies acted as a gruesome guide whenever we were uncertain of the route” (Hopkirk 1980). The French explorer von Le Coq describes being caught in a “black hurricane”: Quite suddenly the sky grows dark . . . a moment later the storm bursts with appalling violence upon the caravan. Enormous masses of sand, mixed with pebbles, are forcibly lifted up, whirled round, and dashed down on man and beast; the darkness increases and strange clashing noises mingle with the roar and howl of the storm . . . Any traveler overwhelmed by such a storm must, in spite of the heat, entirely envelop himself in felts to escape injury from the stones dashing around with such mad force. Men and horses must lie down and endure the rage of the hurricane, which often lasts for hours together. (Hopkirk 1980210) The Chinese first ventured into this forbidding region in the first. century so. when the Han emperor Wu-ti sent an emissary with a yak tail as sign of his ambassadorial authority His mission was to check up on the activities of the Hsiung-nu, nomadic warriors who kept harassing Chi— 18 Chapter Two nese farmers in border areas. The emissary, whose name was Chang Ch’ien, was gone for thirteen years of harrowing adventures, including ten years of imprisonment by the Hsiung-nu. He finally returned with only one of his hundred men, plus the yak tail. He brought accounts of peoples living far to the west, at Samarkand, Bokhara, Balk, Persia, and a place called “Li-jien,” which was probably Rome. The news that there were interesting people to trade with in those distant lands led to caravans filled with Chinese silks and other prestige goods, and soon also to garrisons and watchtowers at the expanding west- ern fringes of Chinese influence. This was the famous Silk Road. It started at Chang-an and led out northwestward through a series of oasis towns, including the famous Dunhuang in the Gobi Desert. But the Silk Road could not cross the Taklamakan; instead, a northern and a southern route skirted the perilous wastes of the desert, linking oases watered by short rivers that flowed from fringing mountains and disappeared into the ocean of sand. Most of these oasis towns met the terrible fate of the shifting sands, suddenly swallowed whole by a black hurricane, not to be rediscovered for a thousand years or more until early in the twentieth century. I C “1 it: . .. ., - .. p}; are! ,x. - . .\,.—, pugs Idling iyg’lia‘ng'an I Lhasa K .1 ., 4 L. \ F If {-Ch "d ’ ' a, .. eng 11 ,’ V ir-"x,.,\/ [Wk 3 \L 3-4} | 1 1 K , k . . "J? i I Cily m Grand Canal fix D—D—D Great Wall ’3 if 1 ... Silk Road ‘ l _ 7—. .7 Map 2.2 China and the Silk Road Asia As Cultured Space 19 Rivers If you examine the map, it looks as if the Indian continent plunged into Eurasia like a bull, plowing its two horns deep into the continent and pinching the ranges that emerged in the west and in the east; these east- ern and western pinches are the sources of Asia’s nine greatest rivers. Part of the romance of great rivers is that they have single sources that can be sought and named, round which mythologies can grow and pilgrimages can focus. In fact, rivers are all vast drainage systems whose true source, say in the case of the Yangtze, is its seven hundred thousand- square-mile basin. Yet the headwaters of the Huanghe, Yangtze, Red, Mekong, Salween, and Irrawadi Rivers can be traced to a series of parallel gashes in the Tibetan and Chinghai mountains; at one point the Mekong, Salween, and Yangtze are separated by only forty miles. The distortions of the earth’s surface caused by the Indo-Eurasian collision gave China most of its geographic features: more mountainous terrain and less arable land (11 percent) than any of the world’s large nations. An older east—west range bisects central China almost to the Pacific. This range is the watershed dividing the two great river systems, the Huanghe and the Yangtze, and dividing China into its two critical eco- logical and cultural regions, North China and South China. North of these mountains, winters are cold, wheat grows better than rice, and for peasants working the powdery soil, life is hard. South China, by contrast, is subtropical, with abundant rainfall, hilly green land, tea, bamboo, water buffalo, and two or more crops of rice a year. For centuries north~ erners have imagined the south as a lush and sensuous place, but also a dangerous region of “southern barbarians.” “China’s Sorrow” is the nickname given to the treacherous Huanghe (Yellow River), which cuts a northern loop through the upland plateau of powdery soil, then descends to the low-lying North China Plain. The Yel- low River gets its name from the ochre-colored soil called loess that has been blowing into the North China uplands from Inner Asia for thous sands of years, reaching a depth of four hundred feet in some areas. This soil, as fine as talcum powder, has been gradually raising the bed of the river, which now is contained only by dikes built along its edges. The result is that afier centuries of dike building, the river is actually high er than the surrounding terrain. Chinese historians have counted 1,573 times it has broken its banks since 602 BC. (roughly every year and a half). Building these dikes to protect farmers from floods has been consid- ered the duty of rulers since ancient times. According to Sima Qian, a court historian in the first century 13.0, a woman named Chien Ti found a black bird egg while taking a bath. She ate it, became pregnant, and gave birth to a son, Hsieh, who grew up and went to work controlling the floods. He was the founder of the Shang dynasty (17664122 13.0.). The 20 Chapter Two myth encapsulates the expectation that rulers will be responsible for water control. The river sometimes spills into the Bohai Sea but occasionally cata- strophically changes its mind and drops south into the Yellow Sea. In the last millennium, spectacular course changes have come in 1194 (south into the Yellow Sea), 1855 (north into the Bohai Sea), 1938 (south), and 1946 (north)——where it flows today. At every course change, the human suffering has been immense. The 1938 change was deliberate. In an act counter to the historic role of rulers as protectors of the dikes, Chiang Kai- shek blew them up in order to halt the Japanese advance by flooding the North China Plain. It did slow them down, but it also caused half a mil- lion deaths and produced six million refugees. By contrast, the Yangtze is “China’s Main Street,” sometimes com- pared to the Mississippi for commercially profitable navigability. It has ten times the volume of the Huanghe and is far more stable. Geologists suspect that in prehistoric times the Yangtze and the Red River, which flows out into the Gulf of Tonkin, were one and the same river. Somehow that course was interrupted and the Yangtze turned eastward, flowing across two thousand miles to the East China Sea and capturing dozens of rivers in its path. The Italian merchant Marco Polo spent time in the lower Yangtze region in the early 12905 and was impressed by the commercial activity along the river. More than two hundred cities in sixteen provinces were involved in the river’s great trade network. One of those cities may have been Shanghai, although until the mid-nineteenth century it was only a small coastal town. Only after it was acquired as a “Treaty Port” by the British, because of its strategic location for international shipping at the mouth of the Yangtze, did it grow into China’s largest and richest city. The great challenge for early rulers was to link the rich, rice-grow- ing southern provinces with the north so that tribute- and tax-bearing barges could reach the northern capitals. The earliest piece of what became known as the Grand Canal may have been dug in the sixth cen- tury 13.0., contemporary with early stretches of the Great Wall. Over the next centuries, work on the Grand Canal was undertaken during periods of strong regimes and allowed to fall into disrepair during periods of dis- order. Between AD. 600 and 610, two to three million laborers (including women when they ran short of men) constructed over fourteen hundred miles of canal. It began at Hangzhou on the coast, cut north to the Yangtze, curved around several large lakes and then northeast to meet the Yellow River, from where it was an upriver journey to the capital, Chang-an (Xian), with a five hundred-mile extension northeast toward a town near what later became Peking. This canal was in use for the next seven hundred years. When, alter the Mongol conquest in AD. 1280, they made their capital at Peking, much of the course of the Grand Canal that Asia As Cultured Space 21 At hundreds of sites all along the Ganges Riven but especially at certain sacred sites like the upriver towns ofRishikesh and Haridwar; the Goddess Gringo—Ilia river itself—is worshipped with fire (arati) at dawn and dust. Brahmansperfunii the worship, but are joined by hundreds of thousands of worshippers. 22 Chapter Two led to Chang-an was irrelevant. So between 1290 and 1300, they rerouted , the canal, shortening it by four hundred miles to just over one thousand miles—about the distance from Miami to New York. Nothing comparable existed anywhere else in the world. In the western Himalayan “pinch” are the headwaters of India’s three great rivers, the Indus, Brahmaputra, and Ganges. Their sources— much sought by Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims—are within seventy-five miles of each other at the foot of Mt. Kailash near the northwestern cor- ner of Nepal in Tibet. 1 Pilgrims circumamhulate the mountain in arduous but holy three-day treks. From Mt. Kailash, the Brahmaputra flows east- ward across Tibet almost to the Mekong-Salween-Yangtze group, then suddenly plunges south to mix its waters with the Ganges in the Bengal delta. Across the entire southern fringe of the Himalayas, more than a dozen rivers drain south to be caught like so many ribbons in the two great North Indian rivers, the Indus and the Ganges. All Hindus long to die on the banks of the Ganges, and families will make great effort to take their dead to cremation sites along the river. The corpse must be burned within twelve hours of death. They are carried, wrapped in cloth, by stretcher to the cremation site where the expenses of wood and attendants may be high. Asia As Cultured Space 23 Every day several million Hindus bathe away not only their physis cal dirt but also their sins in the holy waters of the Ganges. No Asian river is more beloved, more revered, or more transformed by mythology than the Ganges. Called “Ganga Ma” (Mother Ganges) ...
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