Thursday, January 7, 2016

Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt's "China's Early Mosques"

Nancy S. Steinhardt is Professor of East Asian Art and Curator of Chinese Art at the University of Pennsylvania where she has taught since 1982. She is author or co-author of Chinese Traditional Architecture (1984), Chinese Imperial City Planning (1990), Liao Architecture (1997), Chinese Architecture (2003), Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (2005), Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts (2011), Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200-600 (2014), and more than 70 scholarly articles.

Steinhardt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, China's Early Mosques, and reported the following:
From page 99:
From d’Ollone’s and Na’s sketches, several features of the burial site before the most recent repairs are certain. Saidianchi’s cenotaph was standard for a Muslim in China. It was little different from the Song or Yuan cenotaphs in Guangzhou, Quanzhou, and Yangzhou or from later Muslim burials in China or other parts of the world where Muslims lived. The stone base was about 4 m by about 2.5 m. Above it were layers of stone, each successively smaller in base dimension, capped by a semicircular prism. The current monument has straight sides. Originally the stone monument was enclosed by a pillar-supported wall or structure of 8 m by 6.5 m in perimeter that has today been replaced by a low wall. By the time d’Ollone visited, only pillar bases remained. In death, the tomb of the esteemed governor of the period of Mongolian rule was marked with no more glory than any Muslim who could afford a stone monument. That it has been preserved in a large city, however, is a testament to Saidianchi’s fame. At one time, a mosque, other Muslim tombs, a Muslim school, and a residence for imams were in close proximity to the tomb. Pottery remains found by Na confirm 20th c occupation in the vicinity (fig. 4.1).

The alternate tomb site is 12.5 km north of the city of Kunming at Majia’an, a location more closely supported by Saidianchi’s biography in Yuanshi and by Li Yuanyang’s Yunnan tongzhi (Gazetteer of Yunnan province), both of which state that the tomb is outside the north gate of the city. Scholars of the Qing period argued for a third location. They suggested that the corpse had been moved from Kunming, where Saidianchi died, for burial near Xianyang (a location that would reflect his title).

Saidianchi exemplifies the extraordinary impact Muslim individuals had on Chinese history during the Yuan dynasty. Because the period of Mongolian rule is a unique time when buildings other than mosques are associated with the powerful Muslim presence in China, several extraordinary mausoleums and an observatory are discussed below.

Muslim Tombs in Yuan China

After Saidianchi, the most famous Muslim buried in Yuan China was Tughluq Temür (1329/30-c. 1363) whose tomb is discussed below because it is dated later than the others. A less well-known and similar mausoleum that is likely to predate Tughluq Temür’s survives in Guyuan, Hebei province, on the route along which Mongols traveled between China and their summer capital Shangdu (Xanadu) (fig. 4.2).

Tomb in Guyuan

The monument is almost definitely referred to in the geographic study of a part of Inner Mongolia and contiguous regions undertaken at the request of the Qianlong (r. 1736-96) court by the official Jin Zhizhang sometime between 1732 and 1741, and published with additions by Huang Kerun in 1758.
[endnotes not included]
One question was with me every time I studied a mosque in China and as I wrote this book: What happens when a monotheistic, foreign religion needs worship space in China, a civilization with a building tradition that has maintained archetypical structures that resemble the Forbidden City for imperial, religious, funerary, and residential architecture through millennia? The story of this extraordinary convergence between Chinese and Islamic architecture begins in the 7th century and continues under the Chinese rule of Song and Ming dynasties, and the non-Chinese rule of the Mongols and Manchus, each with a different political and religious agenda. The politics behind mosque construction at certain times and in specific places is explored for each mosque. I believe I have shown that mosques, and ultimately Islam, survive in China because the Chinese architectural system, though almost always identifiable because of timber framing, bracket sets, and ceramic tile roofs, is adaptable: it can accommodate the religious requirements of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Islam.

I discuss approximately 70 old mosques, the the famous tourist mosques in Xi'an and Beijing, of course, and mosques in almost every other Chinese province and autonomous region. Most of them are Hui mosques, prayer spaces of Chinese-speaking Muslims. My study begins and ends with the buildings themselves, asking what is most necessary for Muslim worship space and showing that the convergence between a mosque and Chinese architecture is possible because so few structural features are necessary for a Muslim worship space, and all of them can be accommodated within the Chinese building system. I also explore the social and political aspects of Sino-Islamic architecture, and the challenges faced by religious construction in premodern and contemporary Asia.

Page 99, about one-third of the way into the book, deals with Muslim architecture in China under Mongol rule. The specific page finished discussion of the tomb of Mongol China's most famous Muslim, Saidianchi. It continued to discuss a tomb that almost no reader would know about. I hope that my book adds this monument to the canon of both Chinese architecture and Islamic architecture. The chapter is also the set-up for my argument why Islam survived into the 21st century in China whereas Christianity had a more tormented his tory and Judaism, except in Kaifeng, did not survive. I show that Mongol policies and the large number of foreigners in China is the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly Muslims like Saidianchi, were crucial to the continuation of Islam during the rule of later dynasties.
Learn more about China's Early Mosques at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue