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Chinese History - Western Xia Empire Arts

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The mixture of both cultures and ethnics, Chinese and Non-Chinese, resulted in the adaption of both Chinese customs and beliefs by the Tanguts (“civilizing” wenhua 文化) and the familiarization of the Chinese with Tangut customs (“barbarization” fanhua 蕃化). One example a Non-Chinese custom adapted by the Chinese is the short-haired or even bold-head fashion. While the Chinese used to wear their hair long and knotted below a cap, the Non-Chinese of various origin shaved their heads (Chinese: tufa 禿髮, a Chinese explanation or origin of the Non-Chinese family names Tuoba 拓跋 and Tufa). In many aspects, Western Xia pictorial art was dominated by religious themes. We find many wall paintings (bihua 壁畫) and Buddha and Bodhisattva statues (Foxiang 佛象, Pusaxiang 菩薩象) in the grottoes (shiku 石窟) of Mogao 莫高窟 near Dunhuang 敦煌/Gansu as well as in the Yulin Grottoes 榆林窟 near Anxi 安西/Gansu, and the ruins of Heishui 黑水城 near Ejina Banner 額濟納旗/Inner Mongolia. But these paintings do not only represent Buddhas and other deities, but also depict scenes of daily life, from court ceremonies down to the production of iron and farming peasants. Archaeologists have unearthed many objects of daily life, like coins, seals, amulets, with Chinese and Tangut inscriptions, weapons, golden bowls, buckles, brooches, silver bowls, and stone animals flanking the entrance to the imperial tombs. Most of these objects resemble Chinese things, like the dragon-adorned pillars unearthed from one of the imperial tombs near Yinchuan 銀川/Ningxia. Porcelain resembles the Song style in shape, but is much coarser. A very popular technique was to cover white-bodied porcelain with a dark glaze, and then to scribe out patterns of flowers from the black surface. The flowers were black, and the original body of the vessel reappeared between the flowers and leafs. A very common type was a flat ceramic drinking bottle with two or four ears to hog-tie the bottle on a camel’s saddle. Of the architecture of the Western Xia, not much is left. There are vast ruins of the capital Xingqing 興慶 (modern Yinchuan) and the city of Tongwan 統萬 (modern /Shaanxi) where the foundations of the palaces, temples and private houses are preserved, as well as the imperial tombs west of the old capital. Of the monasteries, pagodas can be seen in the Chengtian Monastery 承天寺, the double pagodas of the double monastery Bai-Kou 拜寺口寺 (both modern Yinchuan 銀川/Ningxia), the Ganying Pagoda 感應塔in the Huguo Monastery 護國寺 (modern Weiwu 威武/Gansu); and the Monastery of the Reclining Buddha (Wofosi 臥佛寺). The technology of priniting with wooden movable types (huozi 活字) was well-developed under Western Xia rule, and there are many books and fragments preserved written in Tangut language and Tangut script (mishu 番書 - not fanshu!). Many traditional Chinese writings like Confucian Classics and military treatises, but also Buddhist writings, were translated into Tangutian. But Tanguts also wrote several poems in Chinese, like Emperor Chongzong 西夏崇宗 (Li Qianshun 李乾順) in person. Chinese music was also widespread among the Tangut ruling class.

2000 ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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