Preliminary results of the historico-ethnological expedition “Muslims of Chinese Turkestan: Uyghurs of Xinjiang and Salars of Qinghai” by Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences
From September 19 till October 1, 2008 within the framework of museum projects “Expeditions are not over” and “Ijma‘=Concord” a historico-ethnological expedition “Muslims of Chinese Turkestan: Uyghurs of Xinjiang and Salars of Qinghai” by Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (MAE), Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), took place in the territory of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region and Qinghai province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) according to the Agreement on scientific cooperation between the MAE RAS and the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Academy of Social Sciences of the PRC. (See the map)
The expedition crew consisting of the Project Head Dr. Prof. Efim A. Rezvan, the MAE RAS deputy director, Dr. Prof. Yuri A. Chistov, the MAE RAS director, Dr. Igor A. Alimov, Head of the Department on Ethnology of Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, Dr. Maryam E. Rezvan, Head of the Department on Ethnography of Central Asia, Dr. Elena A. Mikhailova, the MAE RAS Academic secretary, Yuri A. Krylov, camera man and video engineer, Dmitriy S. Shneersohn, Director of Saint-Petersburg museum of photography and artist–photographer Tatyana M. Fеdorova developed a route that allowed to visit a number of most important cultural and religious centers in the Chinese part of the Silk Road.
During twelve days of field work the expedition took seven flights and covered about fifteen hundred kilometers on ground transportation. Dr. Zhou Hong, scientific associate of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Academy of Social Science of the PRC, took part in the expedition.
The expedition aimed at collecting materials to provide scientific ground for monographic publication on MAE collection delivered from Xinjiang and Qinghai. This collection is one of the largest in the world consisting of about 500 units of articles and about 1500 photo-illustrations. The collection represents cultural and ethnical diversity of Eastern Turkestan as well as the history of its studies in Russia. Compilation of the collection is related to the activity of the legendary Russian Committee on Central Asia studies and the names of such prominent scientists and travelers as Nikolai M. Przhevalsky, Vsevolod I. Roborovsky, Sergey E. Malov and many others. It was in the MAE that Russian officer and future Marshall of Finland Carl Gustaf Mannerheim was preparing for his famous expedition. The year 2009 is the 100th anniversary of terminating the expedition that allowed him to bring from Eastern Turkestan most interesting archeological and ethnographical collections for the National Museum of Finland in Helsingfors.
Other major tasks of the MAE expedition included collecting video and photo materials for a future exhibition with tentative name “Between Turkestan and Tibet: the Salars”, acquiring new collections for the MAE RAS, building partner relations with colleagues from specialized scientific centers in Urumqi and Xining. It is intended to open the exhibition and publish its catalogue in the course of spring and summer of 2009. The exhibition will be devoted to the ancient and modern culture of the Salars. The history of this people is inseparably associated with the Great Silk Road that served as a route of great migrations for many centuries.
Special attention was paid to collecting materials on history and current status of Islam in Chinese Turkestan and Qinghai province within the framework of the MAE expedition. A video interview with Bai Yun-xian, imam of Caotanbai Friday mosque in Xunhua, was taken as part of scientific and media project “Ijma‘=Concord”.
In Kashgar the expedition worked in the old city, in the vicinity of the largest in China mosque Id Gah, in the memorial complex Afaq Khwaja — one of the major Muslim shrines of the region. The mausoleum of Yusuf Khass Hajib Balasaghuni was also visited. Video filming for the project was performed in the Taklamakan desert.
In Turfan and its suburbs the expedition worked in the vicinity of the Amin mosque and minaret, in the Tuyoq mazar area called “Turkestan Mecca”, in the ancient Buddhist monastery “The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas” and on the ruins of ancient city of Jiaohe.
In Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, the expedition worked in the Dongguan Friday mosque. A visit of Kumbum monastery (Ta’er Si), which is one of the largest Buddhist spiritual centers on the way from Tibet to Mongolia and China, turned extremely productive. In the city of Xunhua the expedition specialists had an opportunity to study the main religious relic of the Salars — Otuz Qur’an. This volume of 30 parts on almost 1000 pages is considered to be the most ancient in China and according to the legend it was brought here from Samarkand by the first Salar migrants. The expedition visited the tombs of two legendary brothers Ahman and Qaraman, who are believed to be the ancestors of the Salars. According to the legend a famous white rock — “stoned female camel” — brought the brothers there. In the vicinity of Xunhua town during the visit to one of the oldest mosques in the region called the Mosque of Pure Water (dated by 16th―17th centuries) and the mosque Xiangela, the participants made records of the songs in the Salar language. The state of all sites is recorded with the help of all equipment at the participants' disposal.
In Urumqi the expedition participants held several fruitful meetings with governing body and professors of Xinjiang Pedagogical University. In the Institute of Archeology, Xinjiang Academy of Social Science, expedition specialists had an opportunity to get acquainted with the unique collections offering recent sensational findings in the region. In the city of Xining there were several cordial meetings with the colleagues from Qinghai University of Nationalities and the Museum of Qinghai province. In the course of meetings Chinese specialists showed recognition of the Russian science significant contribution to historical and cultural studies of the region. Both parties expressed readiness to recreate mutual cooperation in scientific sphere and work on joint scientific and exhibition projects.
The expedition filmed about 9 hours of video materials and took more than five thousand professional pictures.
The expedition project was partially funded from the grant of Saint Petersburg Scientific Center (RAS). The MAE expresses sincere gratitude to the Chinese colleagues, to the officers of the Moscow branch of China Southern Airlines and to Andrey Chanov for assistance in organization process and acquisition of collection items.