Friday, November 29, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #5 Vivienne Lo

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Vivienne Lo is the director of the UCL China Centre for Health and Humanity. She has also been a restaurateur and professional acupuncturist for many decades and combines her historical and contemporary interests in the history of food, qi exercises and Chinese medicine. She has been teaching the History of Asian Medicine and Classical Chinese medicine at BSc and MA level at University College London (UCL) since 2002. Her research concerns the social and cultural origins of acupuncture and therapeutic exercise. She translates and analyses manuscript material from Early and Medieval China and the transmission of scientific knowledge along the so-called Silk Roads through to the modern Chinese medical diaspora. Her chosen item is medical manuscript Or.8210/S.6168.

Vivienne Lo writes:

Or.8210/S.6168 is the earliest illustration of moxibustion practice, the therapeutic treatment that uses artemesia punk and other cautery techniques to treat illnesses. It pre-dates the earliest Chinese bronze acupuncture models used for teaching in the Song period by at least a century and represents a pervasive medical culture in evidence at both the centre and periphery of Chinese administration. I have called this culture 'quick and easy Chinese medicine', because the charts provide everything you need to know: the locations of the points, symptoms of the illnesses, numbers of cautery to place and burn on the points with little reference to the kind of theory that requires a classical education. It is therefore a 'householder' treatment for everyday symptoms. It can be compared and contrasted to Tibetan manuscripts in the Pelliot collection which reveal the cross-cultural transmission of medicine in the Dunhuang area.

I love this mansuscript and sponsored it in the name of my late father, Kenneth Lo. When I first began researching medicine in early and medieval manuscript cultures I had no idea there was such a treasure just down the road from my office. Both in my work as an acupuncturist and as an historian I have been intrigued by what makes an acceptable home treatment and what is properly in the domain of the professional. In the history of Chinese therapy moxibustion has been much more prevalent than acupuncture. Artemesia grows everywhere and is easy to prepare into moxa. Even though in the Chinese context historically, and in some places still today, the moxa is applied until the skin blisters so there is a danger of infection, in most parts of the world it has become a much gentler practice and, in my view, is safe to use at home with very little instruction.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #4 Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst works in Berlin on the edition of Iranian fragments in the Berlin Turfan Collection at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The project is called ‘Turfanforschung’ (Turfan Studies) and is an IDP partner. His chosen item is M 4a.

The Parthian mwqrʾnyg bʾšʾẖ (Turfan Collection, Berlin, M 4a I V 3-16). In: ARAM 16 (2004), 95-107.

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst writes:

One of my favourite items in the Berlin Turfan Collection is the bifolio M 4a and in particular the right-hand side on which a small hymn is preserved entirely. The bifolio is an exquisite example of Manichaean book art. The scribe used an elaborate headline and initial letter extending into the upper right margin to create a very pleasing design. The short text is framed within rubrics in red that identify its beginning and end. It is in Parthian, a language from the north of Iran which probably died out in the seventh century but which has survived because it was still used by Manichaeans in far-away Turfan on the Silk Road in the tenth century.

Friday, November 15, 2013

IDP Quarterly Report: August — October 2013

Download this report PDF 193KB.


IDP is celebrating twenty years of successful endeavours at the British Library with a series of activities and events. Details can be found on the IDP website and blog. We hope many of you will join us in our celebrations.

Manuscript Audit and Move

IDP has been particularly busy over the past quarter helping colleagues throughout the Library with auditing, packing and moving the manuscripts to another secure location in the Library. This was to enable routine maintenance work to be carried out in the strongroom where they are normally held. The work on the fire damper systems included an element to enable access to the systems from outside, so that the manuscripts will not need to be moved again. However, this was an ideal opportunity to carry out a complete audit of the collections and to assess the storage. As a result, more storage space has been created in the strongroom, in anticipation of future growth of the collections following conservation and rehousing of some of the material. The work was completed on time and the manuscripts are now available again for readers (as of 17 November).


The Dunhuang Foundation, a US-based organisation founded to support the work of the Dunhuang Academy and related activities, generously gave $12,100 to IDP and the Needham Research Institute to digitise and catalogue photographs and archives relating to Joseph Needham’s two visits to Dunhuang in 1943 and 1958. Once online, The Dunhuang Academy will help with further identifications of the subjects of the photographs.


  • Susan Whitfield (SW) was interviewed by Tianjin TV (China) and China Central TV for their forthcoming programmes on Dunhuang, looking especially at Stein and Needham’s visit. She also helped the BBC for their Culture Show programme on the Chinese painting exhibition currently on display at the V&A Museum, London.
  • SW was interviewed by Jacob Mikanowski for a New Yorker blog, which appeared on 9 October.
  • The Italian publication, Archeo ran a special issue on the Silk Road including an interview with SW.


We welcomed Lizzie Vickery and Sarah Wall to IDP in August. They will be working in the studio as Digital Imaging Assistants.

Conferences and Lectures

  • 19-21 September: SW, Vic Swift (VS) and John Falconer (JF, Lead Curator, Photographs), attended the final workshop in the AHRC-funded Silk Road Network, organised by Nottingham University. JF presented a paper.
  • 24 - 27 September: SW and Sam van Schaik (SvS) both gave papers at a conference in St Petersburg on the life and legacy of Sergei Oldenburg. They also met with curators from the State Hermitage Museum and IDP Berlin partners for ongoing discussions of potential collaboration.
  • 21 October: SvS lectured to students on a SOAS Diploma course on Indian art.
  • 24 October: SW lectured to students on a Christies’ Diploma course on Chinese art.
  • 30 October: SW lectured to students on the SOAS MA in Art and Archaeology of the Silk Road.

Visitors and Meetings

  • 7 August: SW met with Niyati Mehta, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, to discuss IDP and view the Diamond Sutra.
  • 10 August: SW and JF met with Declan Hayden to discuss the Desmond Parsons’ archive and Parson’s visit to Dunhuang in 1935.
  • 19 August: Emma Goodliffe (EG) and Josef Konczak (JK) met with Haitham Sayed Osman, Head of Imaging for the TIFDAK Project in Cairo, to discuss imaging techniques and introduce the work of the IDP Studio.
  • 27 August: EG met with the scholar Dr Liu Zhengcheng and his daughter Cynthia Liu to discuss Dr Liu’s publication on Chinese calligraphy based on the Dunhuang manuscripts.
  • 10 September: a group of scholars visited the BL to view a selection of Manichaean manuscripts, and SW helped Ursula Sims-Williams with the Show and Tell.
  • 23 September: EG and JK provide a studio tour to visitors from the National Archives of Japan.
  • 26 September: EG acted as interpreter for the Chinese State Archives Show and Tell at the British Library.

Manuscripts available from Monday 18 November 2013

The essential maintenance work in the storage areas of the British Library, the Stein Dunhuang and other Central Asia manuscripts is now complete and manuscripts will be available for viewing from Monday 18 November 2013. We thank you for your patience.

If you would like to make arrangements to access the collections please see our Collections page and complete the Access to Collections form.

IDP UK: Twitter Digitisation Feed

Digitisation staff at IDP UK will be posting updates to our Twitter feed as new material from the British Library collections is made available online. The latest posts will also appear here (right) and on the IDP Web archive page of the IDP website. Please follow @idp_uk for all our updates.

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #3 Tsuguhito Takeuchi

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Tsuguhito Takeuchi is Professor of Linguistics at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies. His research field is the linguistic analysis of Old Tibetan documents from Central Asia. He is the author of Old Tibetan Manuscripts from East Turkestan in the Stein Collection of the British Library and he is currently cataloguing the Tibetan woodslips in the Stein Collection.

His chosen item is IOL Tib N 1103 (M.Tagh.002) in the Stein Collection of the British Library, a Tibetan woodslip unearthed from Mazār Tāgh by Aurel Stein.

Tsuguhito Takeuchi writes:

This is a particular type of tally stick. One side is painted red with several short and long notches cut into it. A wedge is cut away at the bottom right. On the left side is written a place name, ending with rtse ‘mountain peak.’ This is a place for ri-zug or hill-stationing of watchmen, a unit of four men, consisting of Tibetan soldiers and Khotanese cooks. They were sent from the Mazār Tāgh fort to hill stations in the desert. When they set out, they brought the cut-out wedge as a tally to receive provisions (barley) later from a courier who carried this master woodslip bearing the name of the hill-station. At the time of receiving provisions, both short and long notched served for identification: the short notches represented the amount of grain, while the long ones served for matching-up.

Although each ri-zug slip appears to contain scarce information, closer examinations reveal how they actually functioned. They attest the sophisticated logistic system of the Tibetan military administration, a key for understanding how a small number of Tibetans controlled the vast colonial empire.

These slips together with paper documents also vividly indicate the harshness of the lives of local peoples. How were they recruited and sent to stations? They tell of the escape and execution of Khotanese, etc. Seemingly humble finds yield much information!

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #2 Agnes Kelecsényi and Kinga Dévényi

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Agnes Kelecsényi (left) and Kinga Dévényi (right) are curators in the Oriental Collection of the Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, where Stein’s bequest is preserved. They have been strongly involved in disseminating knowledge about this collection including various digitisation and cataloguing projects with IDP. Their chosen item is Aurel Stein's manuscript of the Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan.

Detail from Stein's Ms of the Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan, 653/1-2.

Agnes Kelecsényi and Kinga Dévényi write:

The two volume manuscript, bound in brown leather, consists of two parts: The text of the Preliminary Note in Stein’s pagination Vol.1.:434 ff. and Vol. 2.: 435-812 ff. completed in London, 6 February 1903. At the end of the manuscript two parts are inserted from his diary written during his return journey to Europe: Osh, 8 June 1901 (13 ff.); and Samarkand, 15 June 1901 (6 ff.).

This manuscript was donated to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences by Stein as a part of his first donation of books to the Academy of his native land.

It is our favourite item because his neat handwriting and scarce amendments reflect his scholarly way of composing and his well disciplined character. While the dried flowers put among the leaves of the manuscript, and which are from the Mohand Marg, his mountain retreat in Kashmir, are a sign of his tender heart, love of nature, and spirituality.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

IDP News Issue 42, Autumn 2013

IDP News 42 is now available to view online or download (PDF 930KB). This issue features photographs taken by the mid-twentieth century travellers to Dunhuang, Desmond Parsons, Joseph Needham, Raghu Vira and Irene and John Vincent. Other articles include a tribute to Frances Wood who retired earlier this year and a conservation and science piece on early rag papers.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things #1: Victor H. Mair

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Professor Mair teaching at the European summer school for graduate students organized by Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, 2013. Photograph by Arina Mikhalevskaya.

Victor H. Mair is Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA. He has been teaching there since 1979, before which he taught at Harvard University. Professor Mair's interest in Central Asia stems mainly from his studies of Dunhuang popular narratives, about which he has written three books and dozens of articles. Developing out of his research on Dunhuang biànwén 變文 (transformation texts), he gradually moved into archaeological investigations on the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age mummies of Eastern Central Asia. In conjunction with the latter extended project, he has travelled to Xinjiang many times, hosted a major exhibition entitled Secrets of the Silk Road in 2011 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and has published numerous books and articles about the mummies and their associated artefacts.

A detail of Pelliot chinois 4524 from the Bibliothèque nationale de France collections.

Victor H. Mair writes:

The picture scroll depicting the contest of magical conjurations between Śāriputra and the Six Heretics is my favourite of all objects from Dunhuang for many reasons. The most immediate reason is simply its innate charm, the pictures vividly capturing the excitement of the competition and the details of the individual scenes.

Above all, however, is the fact that this unique scroll holds the key to unlocking the relationship between pictorial and textual narrative that became a hallmark of popular fiction and drama in succeeding centuries. What we find is that the verses on the verso of Pelliot chinois 4524 match the verse portions of the prosimetric transformation text about Mulian (Maudgalyāyana) saving his mother from the suffering of the underworld.

To show how the picture scroll relates to the transformation text, I have devoted one entire book Painting and Performance: Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis, parts of two other books Tun-huang Popular Narratives and T'ang Transformation Texts, and several major articles e.g. ‘Śāriputra Defeats the Six Heterodox Masters: Oral-Visual Aspects of an Illustrated Transformation Scroll (P4524),’ Asia Major; 3rd series, 8.2 (1995 [actually published in September, 1997]), 1-52, plus three plates.