New volume co-edited by Professor Heldt explores medieval East Asia in a transregional context

Friday, August 8, 2014
China and Beyond

Professor Heldt recently co-edited a new book with UVA's Dorothy Wong. Please see the book announcement and reviews below for more information. The book can be purchased here.

Congratulations, Professor Heldt!

China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period: Cultural Crossings and Inter-Regional Connections
Edited by Dorothy C. Wong and Gustav Heldt. Nalanda-Sriwijaya Series. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers; Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2014. (430 pages)


China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period is a collection of essays about Chinese contacts with neighboring cultures in Central, South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia across the first millennium of the Common Era, as well as exchanges among those neighbors that were taking place in the same period. During this time, significant new forms of trans-regional cultural exchange developed across Eurasia through the movement by land and sea of people, objects and ideas over an area stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Many aspects of these exchanges remain understudied, as is particularly evident in the case of medieval China. This centuries-long interregnum between the Han and Tang empires witnessed the rise of multi-ethnic communities, often brought together under the umbrella of Buddhism, and new hybrid forms of culture that challenge any notion of China as a monolithic entity. A similar level of comparative neglect has been accorded more generally to scholarship focusing on cultural connections across the modern borders of nation and region that continue to organize much of our knowledge about the medieval world.

The significant potential for new discoveries possessed by research that crosses such modern boundaries is illustrated by the wealth of insights that China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period offers its readers. In geographical sweep, it moves well beyond China to include such places as India, Java, Sweden, and Yemen within its purview as well. The contributors represent a similarly broad array of academic disciplines that includes the fields of art history, cultural studies, historical studies, literary studies, religious studies, and history of science. Taken together, the twenty-one essays that appear in China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period offer a multi-faceted and wide-ranging look at some of the transmissions, transgressions, syntheses, accommodations, and transformations that were produced when cultures came into contact with one another across medieval Eurasia.

The topics taken up by the five University of Virginia faculty members who contributed essays to China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period--Gustav Heldt (Japanese literature) Anne Kinney (Chinese literature), Eric Ramírez-Weaver (Medieval art), David Summers (art theory and Renaissance art) and Dorothy C. Wong (Chinese art)--exemplify the breadth of perspectives and places that are taken up in this volume. They include the poetry of Japan’s most storied resident in China; historical accounts of women from the Han court who were given as brides to barbarian rulers on the empire’s borders; a bronze Buddhist image that travelled from Kashmir to Viking Sweden via Islamic trade networks; a broad history of the Silk Road linking Europe to Asia; and the many cultural contributions made to eighth-century Japan by a visiting Tang-dynasty prelate. The University of Virginia also played major role in the evolution of this volume from beginning to end. The book had its origins in the international conference “Cultural Crossings: China and Beyond in the Medieval Period” that was held here in March 2010 and supported in part by the Buckner W. Clay Endowment for the Humanities, a Page-Barbour Interdisciplinary Initiative grant, the University of Virginia Art Museum, and the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation. The East Asia Center at the University of Virginia also provided critical support for the conference, as well as for editing the manuscript as part of its mission to support collaborative multi-disciplinary research on East Asia at the university.



“Wong’s and Heldt’s edited anthology represents the future of Asian Studies. A thoroughly transcultural perspective that characterizes the volume sheds new lights on issues that have been studied only within the framework of East Asian modern nation states. At the same time, it demonstrates how immediately relevant the same issues are to the studies of other areas of Asia and beyond. This anthology is a must for anyone who aims at introducing innovations into area studies across diverse academic disciplines.” — Ryuichi Abe, Reischauer Institute Professor of Japanese Religions, Harvard University

“If any readers are still tempted to believe that Chinese civilization was in past centuries immured in introspective isolation, this is the book that should swiftly set them right. Contributors, editors and publishers have all done brilliantly to recreate a long gone wider world, full of colour and movement,within which China was—however important, but one element in a much larger whole. No history lesson today could be more important than this.” — T. H. Barrett, Research Professor of East Asian History, SOAS, University of London

“As this international and interdisciplinary group of scholars shows so well, ideas, people, and things were in motion across Eurasia all during the first millennium CE. The material culture of Buddhism is at the heart of a third of the twenty-one chapters, but less expected topics appear as well, from the use of Chinese poetry at the Nara court to reaction against foreign dress in Tang China and the Zoroastrian imagery in Sogdian tombs. Th e chapters on Chinese-Japanese interactions are especially welcome, as this side of Eurasian cultural interchange is rarely treated in the same volume as China-Central Asia ones. The rich bibliographies should inspire students and scholars to venture further into the many sides of cultural interaction.” — Patricia B. Ebrey, Professor of History, University of Washington