Xiaoli Xu - Professor, Northwest University for Nationalities, China
Throughout Chinese history, the correlation between women and war has sometimes appeared distant. Women have been viewed as the main caretakers of family and not as warriors endangered on the battlefield. In fact, women have been subjected to untold suffering from war. The very role and status of women on the Silk Road illustrate varied experiences of servitude as entertainers, strategic politic as pawns in marriage alliances, and even gifts to be handed down from generation to generation. In the year of 840, the Uighur Empire was defeated by Kirgiz and fled from their Mongolian homeland to span across the Silk Road. A portion of them moved to the Hexi Corridor and were called Hexi Huihu. By the end of the ninth century, they had set up their Khanate in Ganzhou (modern-day Zhangye) and became the biggest threat to Shazhou (modern-day Dunhuang), which was controlled by the Chinese local government. In the succeeding years, the diplomatic relationship between Ganzhou and Shazhou was extremely complicated, with periods of war intermingled with tentative peace brought about by strategic marriage alliances. What is of interest is that married girls formed their own alliances across the political spectrum, for example, a Uighur from Ganzhou would ally with a Chinese from Shazhou. According to historical documents from Dunhuang though, they were both called a “Uighur Princess.” Professor Xu’s presentation will focus on documents and wall-paintings from Dunhuang which display the “princess story” of the Silk Road. She hopes to provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the experiences of these important figures as compared to the representations extolled in official records.