Early Christian Remains of Inner Mongolia

Discovery, Reconstruction and Appropriation


The early Christian presence in Inner Mongolia forms the subject of this book. These Nestorian remains must primarily be attributed to the Öngüt, a Turkic people closely allied to the Mongols. Writing in Syriac, Uighur and Chinese scripts and languages, the Nestorian Öngüt drew upon a variety of religions and cultures to decorate their gravestones with crosses rising from lotus flowers, dragons and Taoist imagery. This heritage also portrays designs found in the Islamic world. Taking a closer look at the discovery of this material and its significance for the study of the early Church of the East under the Mongols, the author reconstructs the Nestorian culture of the Öngüt.
The reader will find many newly discovered objects not published before. At the same time this study demonstrates how many remaining objects were appropriated and, in many cases, vanished after their discovery.

'I find myself obliged to make a special effort to avoid over-praising this book, a treasure-house of information, drawn on a comprehensive array of sources, some of them hitherto untapped, and splendidly presented on the important subject of Christian presence in East Asia.'
DENIS SINOR, (Indiana University), Journal of Asian History, 43/1 (2009)

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Tjalling Halbertsma (Ph.D., Leiden University) has worked in Mongolia and China as a writer, election adviser and as the first Dutch diplomat posted to Ulaanbaatar. Halbertsma holds the Chair for East Asian Studies, with a focus on modern day Mongolia, at the University of Groningen and is Director International of the Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen (CEASG).
'In sum, Halbertsma has produced an admirable study, eclectic in its methodology, yet consistently meticulous and stimulating.'
JOEL WALKER, Hugoye: journal of Syriac Studies, 12/1

'He has written a fascinating and lavishly illustrated book about the religion of a remarkably pragmatic lost Christian civilisation in Asia.'
GERRY van KLINKEN (KITLV, Leiden), Asian Studies Review, 33 (2009)

(...)'Early Christian Remains of the Inner Mongolia is a valuable study of the Öngüt Christian remains in Inner Mongolia, a lasting record of many now destroyed monuments, and, despite the author’s impartial academic tone, a shocking look at the carnage unleashed by museums and private collectors’ avid hunger for unprovenanced artifacts.'
CHRISTOPHER P. ATWOOD (Indiana University), JAS 2009

'I find myself obliged to make a special effort to avoid over-praising this book, a treasure-house of information, drawn on a comprehensive array of sources, some of them hitherto untapped, and splendidly presented on the important subject of Christian presence in East Asia.'
DENIS SINOR, (Indiana University), Journal of Asian History, 43/1 (2009)

'Die Arbeit stellt die erste sowohl westliche als auch japanische und chinesische Forschungsergebnisse ausführlich berücksichtigende Dokumentation und Interpretation ,nestorianischen‘ Fundgutes – in der Hauptsache Grabsteine – im Damaoqi und Siziwangqi Banner der heutigen Inneren Mongolei dar.(…) Ein besonderes Verdienst der vorliegenden Arbeit ist nicht zuletzt die Publikation neuen Fundmaterials auf Grundlage eigener Feldforschungen des Vf. (…) Dies alles macht die Arbeit für zukünftige Forschungen in dieser Richtung unverzichtbar (…) insgesamt großen Wert für weitere Untersuchungen zum ,nestorianischen‘ Christentum auf dem Gebiet des heutigen China.'
SOEREN STARK, Berlin, Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 104 (2009)

'The major strength of the work derives from the author’s obvious commitment to documenting and preserving these archaeological materials which are rapidly disappearing, due to grave looters, local farmers in need of building materials and inefficient or corrupt officials. It is nothing short of a labour of love.(...) In short, the volume is a must have for anyone concerned with either Syriac funerary material or the history of Christianity in Central Asia.'
MARK DICKENS, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, JRAS, Series 3, 20, 2 (2010)

'So, in many ways this book offers an important addition both to the history of the Mongols and to the history of the e Far East. Halbertsma offers a good introduction to the subject and brings together and discusses an important body of material.'

'The great value of this book lies in its documentation of previously unknown and rarely seen examples of Christian funerary remains from Inner Mongolia, some of which unfortunately have now disappeared. It is to be hoped that further investigations by both Chinese and foreign archaeologists can be done as soon as possible before the medieval Christian heritage of Inner Mongolia is lost forever. The photographs in this book may be all that we have in the future if the current rate of looting and destruction continues. For anyone interested in the history of Christianity in Central Asia and China this book is essential and will long remain an important reference source.'
KEN PARRY, Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology (4/2009)

'This is a worthy book, which provides the most comprehensive record to date of the early Christian remains found in Inner Mongolia. (...) The most visible and notable scholarship so far has come from philologists who attempt to decipher gravestone inscriptions, which are written in various languages and scripts. In order to contextualize these inscriptions, Halbertsma has exhausted vast materials, such as textual sources in Chinese and Western languages,
missionary records, archaeological fieldwork, and ethnographical reports. In addition, he discusses a great deal of important secondary sources that help us envision the shape of contemporary scholarship across the boundaries of
many disciplines, such as archaeology, history, philology, and religious studies.'
Huaiyu Chen, Arizona State University, Frontiers of History in China, (2012) 7/1

'Cet ouvrage est en eff et le handbook, le compendium de référence sur la société des Önggüt nestoriens qu’on attendait depuis longtemps. L’auteur y a rassemblé une bonne introduction historique, un excellent exposé des
recherches sur les Önggüt, d’abondantes descriptions archéologiques, complétées par ses propres recherches de terrain et illustrées de cartes utiles et de très nombreuses photographies. Reconstituer l’histoire des recherches, repérer les sites et décrire la situation actuelle constituaient autant de défi s que T. Halbertsma a relevés avec efficacité et au prix de nombreuses années de travail. En même temps qu’il constitue un ouvrage de référence, son livre, d’une lecture aisée et agréable, contribuera certainement à mieux faire connaître les Önggüt nestoriens: une
société originale, porteuse d’un héritage culturel extrêmement divers, et qui marqua profondément les relations entre l’Occident et l’Extrême-Orient au Moyen Âge.'
Pierre Marsone, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, T'oung Pao 97 (2011)

'All in all the book is inspiring, for Halbertsma has documented thoroughly valuable material that was disappearing as he wrote. His record of it will make possible the still necessary deeper study which he hopes may follow.'
Daniel C. Waugh, Professor Emeritus of History (University of Washington), The Silk Road Vol.10 (2012)

All those interested in early Christianity in China and the Mongol Empire and in the discovery and appropriation of the traces left by the Church of the East in Inner Mongolia.
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