The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Tibetan uplift

I am here for Umayyad-era Islam. To that end I go seeking 'ilm on what other nations say about the Arabs and their beliefs, following the trail of their conquests (seek it even to China, as the Prophet said...). Once the Muslims got into Central Asia, among the nations they would have met was Tibet. But Tibetan isn't one of the languages used to document "Islam as others saw it".

One comment Valerie Hansen, in The Silk Road (2012), makes: the Tibetans (and Tangut) were illiterate until 617 AD. Until then they did their recordkeeping with knotted ropes. On reading this I thought... like quipu? Maybe there's something about them mountains. And then I wondered what the "uplift" process must have been like, because today Tibet is considered the great book-depository of Buddhist wisdom. For any people there comes a span of time between preliteracy and Classical Civilisation.

The Tibetan uplift didn't go quite the way of the Inca uplift. The seventh-century Tibetans appear to have got on the ball more quickly and decisively. Tibet went more like Meiji Japan.

Within a century the Yarlung, having united Tibet, were able to mount serious inroads on the Silk Road. When An Lushan (Roxhann the Pahlevi) rebelled, the Tang of China allied with the Yarlung and delegated their southwestern front to them. Predictably the allies kept what they took, and even indulged in a little prima-nocte action with the locals' wives. The Yarlung didn't relinquish Dunhuang until that whole dynasty collapsed. Then, depending on who's counting, China - or at least, people identifying as Chinese - retook Dunhuang 848 AD; some Tibetans did try to re-re-take it a few years later, but lost.

Hansen portrays a Tibetan people struggling with transliterating their language into Chinese characters, into the Sanskrit script, and into a syllabary (like the Japanese). It seems the first thing they did in Dunhuang (or second, after done boffing Chinese girls) was to copy and translate all the Buddhist stuff they could get their hands on.

If the Tibetans were still fine-tuning their script through to the 700s, and still figuring out what they wanted to write about with it: that would explain why we don't see Tibetan comments about their western frontier. Although perhaps later Tibetans made some comments later on. There's a book on that: Anna Akasoy, Charles Burnett, Ronit Yoeli­Tlalim, Islam and Tibet - Interactions along the Musk Routes (Ashgate, 2011).


posted by Zimri on 13:24 | link | 0 comments

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