China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Elite Uighurs migrating from the Uighur homeland in Central Asia to China under Mongol rule in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries played major roles as cultural middlemen of Buddhist book culture. Drawing on primary sources from Buddhist woodcuts excavated in Turfan and epigraphic sources found in southeast and northwest China, this study highlights two individuals. Mengsusu (1206-1267) was a high-ranking official serving Kubilai Khan before the founding of the Yuan dynasty. Fragments of Buddhist frontispieces found in Turfan reveal Mengsusu’s sponsorship of Buddhist printing in Beijing, and his family’s cultural adaptation of Mongolian material culture. The woodcuts were transmitted over long distances back to Central Asia due to his family’s ties to the Buddhist community in the Uighur homeland. The second case shifts to Yihemishi (ca. 1270s-1320s), a wealthy Uighur diplomat, navigator, merchant, who was also a fervent Buddhist donor. A broken stele dated 1316 and discovered in Quanzhou reveals his generous sponsorship of more than 100 temples in Yuan China housing the Buddhist Canon. This vast temple network expanded from the capital Dadu to Fuzhou and Gansu. Taken together with the Mongol postal system, the elite Uighurs’ network extending from China to the Uighur homeland in Central Asia, and to Buddhist countries in South and Southeast Asia can all shed light on how Buddhist books and woodcuts were circulated. Responding to the recent scholarship of spatial history and digital humanities, this study also plans to create a GIS “story map” which visualizes the interlocking networks.