The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics … and other works by Edward H. Schafer

These three books must be read for a better understanding of the context of the treasures of the Shosoin, and of how Tang China shaped Japanese thinking and culture, beginning with its age of sending of envoys. The Japanese missions to Tang China (遣唐使, called Kentōshi) were carried out in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Between 607 and 838, Japan sent 19 missions to China. For more on the missions, see “Japanese missions to Tang China

The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T'ang Exotics

Edward H. Schafer (Author)

In the seventh century the kingdom of Samarkand sent formal gifts of fancy yellow peaches, large as goose eggs and with a color like gold, to the Chinese court at Ch’ang-an. What kind of fruit these golden peaches really were cannot now be guessed, but they have the glamour of mystery, and they symbolize all the exotic things longed for, and unknown things hoped for, by the people of the T’ang empire.
This book examines the exotics imported into China during the T’ang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), and depicts their influence on Chinese life. Into the land during the three centuries of T’ang came the natives of almost every nation of Asia, all bringing exotic wares either as gifts or as goods to be sold. Ivory, rare woods, drugs, diamonds, magicians, dancing girls–the author covers all classes of unusual imports, their places of origin, their lore, their effort on costume, dwellings, diet, and on painting, sculpture, music, and poetry.
This book is not a statistical record of commercial imports and medieval trade, but rather a “humanistic essay, however material its subject matter.”

Reviewed by Susan Swhartz:

The Most Gorgeous Work of Scholarship I’ve Ever Read

In the course of acquiring a PhD and writing about 25 books, I’ve encountered a LOT of scholarly works, but never one as richly textured, evocative, and just plain beautiful as THE GOLDEN PEACHES OF SAMARKAND. It lives up to its title, which is a hard enough act to follow, and takes readers through the splendor and tragedy of T’ang Dynasty China, including the revolt of An Lushan (Rokshan).

He has another book out, THE VERMILION BIRD, which deals with Southeast Asia.

***

Pacing the Void: T’Ang Approaches to the Stars

In the author’s own words, this work attempts to recreate, for the 20th-century reader, the sky and the apparitions that ornament it as they were conceived, imagined, and reacted to by the men of T’ang-dynasty China-that is, to suggest what the medieval Chinese . . . thought they saw in the night sky, and how they treated those magic lights in their active lives, their private commitments, and their literary fabrications. Inevitably, this enterprise meant the exploration of the borderlands where science, faith, tradition, invention, and fantasy overlap. Armed with the new awareness that this fascinating work provides, we can better understand the great legacy of art and literature of this greatest period of cultural flowering in Chinese history

***

The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens in T’Ang Literature

The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens in T'Ang Literature

by Edward H. SchaferGary Snyder (Introduction)
3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  4 ratings  ·  1 review
This important exploration of Chinese mythology focuses on the diverse and evocative associations between women and water in the literature of the T’ang dynasty as well as in the enormous classical canon it inherited. By extension, it peers from medieval China back into the mists of ancient days, when snake queens, river goddesses, and dragon ladies ruled over the vast seas, great river courses, and heavenly sources of water, deities who had to be placated by shaman intercessors chanting hymns lost even by the T’ang. As with his other notable works, Professor Schafer’s meticulous researches into the material culture of the past, coupled with a delightful writing style, allow us to better appreciate the literature of the T’ang by clarifying important contemporaneous symbols of fertility, mutability, and power, including the wondrous and ubiquitous dragon. — A Goodreads review
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