China Westward: Reimagining the Interwoven Material and Cultural Histories of China, Central Asia, and the Himalayas—which was held on Saturday, October 14, and Sunday, October 15—opened with remarks from Mark Wu, Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and its two main organizers, Leonard W.J. van der Kuijp, Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, and Eugene Y. Wang, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art. The conference featured six panels and 18 lectures exploring various understandings of ancient interactions between China and the “Western Regions” through art, religion, ritual, and astrology—and providing new insights into early Chinese civilization and its global context.
We will gradually be sharing video from this fascinating conference, whose importance and relevance today is summed up quite movingly in this excerpt from Wu’s opening remarks:
…While today’s discussion and tomorrow’s discussion will focus on historical periods, they also shed a window on our own times. They serve as a reminder of the complexity of the relationship between the people who live in Central Asia, the Himalayas, and what we term China today. There have been periods during the first millennia that are dark periods, when the relationships amongst all these people are based on fear, based on cultural destruction, on repression, on colonialism, and on the desire to assert superiority over one another.
But there have also been bright periods, one’s when this relationship is based on genuine pluralism, respect for one another’s cultures, and a desire to learn from one another—what we would recognize as true periods of humanism and artistic and cultural flourishing. And so, I hope that all of this work is a reminder not only of our past, but also of our future. It’s when these bright spots are sparked that we truly have not only periods when we see greater developments in culture and art, but also a stability that flourishes amongst all the people in these regions. So I hope that, in looking to the past, we also provide inspiration for the future…
— Mark Wu