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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

US Berkeley launches first us center for silk road

UC Berkeley to open first university center for Silk Road study in North America

The Silk Road is an evocative name that, to many, conjures up images of camel caravans and bustling bazaars — an international highway of commerce where people and cultures from the East and West intermingled and traded goods.
Many of the archaeological, art historical and textual remains left behind on the trade routes are now found at hundreds of remote cave sites scattered throughout far-western China in Xinjiang and Gansu. (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)
But scholars say that this romantic image is only a sliver of what life might have been like on the ancient Eurasian trade routes. UC Berkeley is opening the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for Silk Road Studies, the first institutionalized center in the U.S. dedicated to the study of the historical trading networks serially known as the Silk Road, thanks to a $5 million gift by two branches of the Tang family — Oscar Tang and his wife, Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang, who are based in New York City, and Bay Area Berkeley alumni Nadine Tang and Leslie Tang Schilling, with their brother Martin Tang in Hong Kong.

From left to right: Nadine Tang; Leslie Schilling; Sanjyot Mehendale, the center’s chair; Corinne Debaine-Francfort, of the National Center for Scientific Research in France; Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang (UC Berkeley photo by Peg Skorpinski)
Chinese American philanthropist Oscar Tang founded the first Tang center for excellence in Chinese Humanities, the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University in 2003. In 2015, he and his archaeologist wife founded the Tang Center for Early China at Columbia University. The new Tang Center at UC Berkeley is the latest addition for the advancement of the interdisciplinary study of the historical Silk Road.
Oscar Tang believes that the new Tang Center at Berkeley is “part of my family’s ongoing effort to enhance knowledge and understanding of the great Chinese civilization and its relationship to the rest of the world.”
Carol Christ and Oscar Tang
Chancellor-designate Carol Christ and Oscar Tang (UC Berkeley photo by Peg Skorpinski)
The center, which launched April 29, will promote the research and teaching of the material and visual cultures that flourished along the Silk Road and formed a bridge between the many economic epicenters of Eurasia and China. A better understanding of the Silk Road’s history will also help contextualize its emergent geopolitical significance in the present time.
UC Berkeley is home to a diverse group of scholars who are leading specialists in the languages, history, religions, intellectual and artistic traditions of the ancient civilizations of China, Central Asia and the Near East, making the campus a natural site for a specialized center dedicated to studying the Silk Road.
The center will fund fieldwork and fellowships for faculty and students at excavations, museums and archives; organize conferences and workshops to bring distinguished scholars to campus to share recent discoveries and research; advance teaching on Silk Road topics; foster visiting scholar exchanges; support open-source publications; and promote the training and outreach of K-12 teachers and community college instructors.
Sanjyot Mehendale teaching class
Sanjyot Mehendale, the center’s chair and a lecturer of Central Asian art and archaeology, teaches a class on Iranian art. (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)
Among the UC Berkeley scholars on the center’s advisory committee are Jacob Dalton, a professor of Tibetan Buddhism; Patricia Berger, a professor of Chinese art; and Sanjyot Mehendale, a lecturer of Central Asian art and archaeology, who will serve as the inaugural chair of the new Tang Center. Renowned cellist and humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma and Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO assistant director general for culture and a Berkeley alumnus, will serve as the center’s honorary advisers.
Mehendale says the center will foster the multidisciplinary collaboration necessary for Silk Road research. “It’s about coming together and poring over material from different sides,” she says. “You can’t just sit in your corner of expertise. You have to look at the art, you have to study the texts, you have to examine the archaeological remains, to build a bigger picture. The more we understand the history of the region, in particular Central Asia, the more it will resonate as a place, as cultures, as people.”
Understanding the ancient civilizations on the Silk Road requires an expertise in Buddhist studies, of which Berkeley is a leader. Established in 1972, Berkeley’s Ph.D. program is the only freestanding doctoral program in Buddhist studies in North America. An important component of this program is the study of Buddhist textual materials in classical languages, many of which have not been spoken for centuries.
Chinese manuscript
Students in Berkeley’s Buddhist studies department learn to read ancient Chinese manuscripts, among others. (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)
Robert Sharf, a professor of Buddhist studies at Berkeley, says that studying these texts helps scholars rediscover the lost Buddhist civilizations that once flourished along the oasis towns of the Silk Road but have become forgotten since the mid-eighth century.
“The civilizations of the ancient Near East, South Asia and East Asia all came together and interacted along the thriving urban centers of the Silk Road, giving rise to marvelously sophisticated and innovative cultural achievements,” says Sharf. “The more you learn about that world, the more humble you are. It puts the cultural hubris of our modern world — the idea that we stand at the very apex of human self-understanding — into context.”
Many of the archaeological, art historical and textual remains left behind on the trade routes are now found at hundreds of remote cave sites scattered throughout far-western China in Xinjiang and Gansu, such as those at Kizil and Bezeklik. The most well-known of these sites, the Mogao grottoes, is located near Dunhuang and contained the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art and manuscripts; its famous “library cave” revealed tens of thousands of invaluable manuscripts written in at least a dozen ancient languages and is considered one of the major archaeological finds of the 20th century.
Berkeley has an extensive collection of copies of manuscripts and studies of the culture, religion and art of the Silk Road, housed in the campus’s East Asian library. (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)
While the best-known, Buddhism is only one of many components in the history of the Silk Road. The center seeks to bring to light the rich cultural legacies of the Turkic, Iranian and Islamic civilizations, among others, that made Central Asia a locus of robust cross-cultural, social and political synergy.
The Tang Center for Silk Road Studies will build on and expand current institutional resources to further enhance Berkeley’s leadership role in the scholarship and teaching of the complex past and cultures of the Silk Road, a critical part of our shared humanity.
UC Berkeley’s Tang Center for Silk Road Studies launched April 29. To learn more about the center, visit its website or email


The P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for Silk Road Studies (TCSRS) was established in 2017 under the auspices of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, to advance research and teaching on the historical overland and maritime exchange networks commonly referred to as the Silk Roads.
Supported by a generous gift by two branches of the Tang family, Oscar Tang and his wife Agnes Hsu-Tang, who are based in New York City, and Bay Area Berkeley alumnae Nadine Tang and Leslie Tang Schilling, with their brother Martin Tang in Hong Kong.
Named after the parents of Oscar Tang and the grandparents of Nadine, Leslie and Martin, the TCSRS joins the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University and the Tang Center for Early China at Columbia University, as centers endowed by the Tang family to promote art historical and archaeological research on China and its neighbors.
By institutionalizing Silk Road studies, the TCSRS aims to transcend longstanding boundaries that have challenged and constricted area studies. To date, few academics have utilized the notion of the Silk Road within the discourse of their research, considering it something of a modern construct rather than an “area” on which to focus. But it is precisely the constructed nature of the Silk Road that makes it such a fertile organizing concept for scholarship: by (constructed) definition, it both permits and encourages trans-national, trans-regional, cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary approaches to research and understanding.
The TCSRS focuses on the material and visual culture of sites scattered throughout China and Central Asia, as well as on manuscripts and objects found in archives and repositories in the United States, Europe and Asia, to foster study of and teaching on the trading networks that, in multifaceted ways, formed a bridge between the cultural and commercial centers of Eurasia.
In geographical terms, the TCSRS concentrates its efforts primarily on the core of the overland Eurasian trading network in Central Asia, here defined as including western China, the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as well as Afghanistan. At the same time, it acknowledges the important role that maritime routes played in connecting China to other parts of Asia and beyond.
The TCSRS aims to advance individual, collaborative and interdisciplinary scholarship through seminars, workshops, conferences, fellowships, and K-12 programming. It plans to develop academic partnerships not only with other UC Berkeley departments and research units but also with national and international educational and cultural institutions to develop initiatives for advancing research and outreach in Silk Road studies.

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