D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi



Transformation through Spiritual Pilgrimmage

The poet wishes to thank Professors Batchelor and Brook whose publications provided inspiration. Batchelor's outline of trade routes and Brooks description of sailing were essential for at least the development of several poems in The Selden Poem series. He also wishes to thank the Bodleian Library at Oxford for their recognition of the importance of the map, their restoration of the map and their online access to the map which they have provided.

The poet has now looked more clearly and closely at the image in the upper left-hand corner of the map. This might seem to be a contradiction to the reader who expects a poet to write or recite a poem. Of course, the poet has written and spoken poems in the past. However, they were done in free-form which the poet defines as freedom of poetry and form of philosophy. He has also drawn poems as images which may be a shock to most readers because they will consider these to be sketches rather than poems. These poems tend to concentrate on more abstract philosophical forms.

The poet would prefer to write or draw poems. It is not desirable for him to talk about his own poems because his comments then appear as translations or imperfect copies being one step away from reality. Generally, he doesn't deconstruct other works of art. His preference would be to say that he believes that there are unrecognized images in The Selden Map and let the reader find them or to put it in a more simple way "Where's Waldo?"

It seems that he has to give a name to the small image which he examines. He is not enthusiatic about this step. Things may have the same name but change often. For example, I have assumed the name D. Carlton Rossi, but am I the same person a day ago as I am now? Is it the same river that I stepped in yesterday as I step in now or is it ever the same to paraphrase a well known conundrum?


                                   Emperor Qin Shi Huang

It is not as if Emperor Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇) 259 –210 BCE didn't have enough enemies who plotted a coup and three assassination attempts; but, he multiplied them at every chance he could when he buried alchemists, burned books, conscripted labour, and attacked various states in the name of unification. It was the beginning of the end though for the Xiongnu who were nomadic tribesmen on the open Mongolian steppe when Emperor Qin conducted a pre-emptive war to secure the rectangular Ordos Loop which controlled the nascent western trade route for silk and horses and which was the first line of defence for the fertile lands to the south. Emperor Qin did not undertake half measures as he sent an army of at least 100,000 to the North.

                                       Han-Xiongnu War
                             Note: Lake Baikal is north of the Ordos Loop
The result of the expedition was mixed. He did defeat the Xiongnu who retreated through the Gobi Desert which was their natural line of defence. He then set up a fortification to prevent further incursion and he began the building of a wall.  However, the Xiongnu were excellent military strategists and borrowed a tactic from their enemy--they established the Xiongnu Confederacy which was to harass, hinder and humiliate the enemy for the next 200 years.

                            Han-Xiongnu War  (127 BCE-89 CE)

Fast forward to the year 127 BCE when General Wei Qing invaded and took control of the Ordos region. He resettled 100,000 people to create a kind of buffer region. He also repaired and extended the walls to Dunhuang in order to separate the Xiongnu from their Qiang allies. The Han forces then invaded the northern regions of the Gobi Desert and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Mobei in 119 BCE. The Han forces pursued Yizhixie and his troops as far as Lake Baikal.


                                         Altai Mountains

Later, in 89 CE, General Dou Xian 窦宪 led an expedition against the Northern Xiongnu. He ended up chasing the Northern Chanyu into the Altai Mountains and defeating them. He led a triumphal march to present day Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia which was then the heart of the Xiongnu territory. He erected a stele at Mount Yanran (which is just south of Lake Baikal). In 2017, an archaeological expedition rediscovered the Inscription of Yanran in central Mongolia.


                                            Ban Gu

The Inscription on the Ceremonial Mounding of Mount Yanran was written by historian and poet Ban Gu who was on staff and earlier had been Marshall of the Black Warrior Gate. It is composed of 260 characters which concludes with five lines of Chu Ci style poetry. It was carved by the General of Chariots and Cavalry Dou Xian on a cliff in the Yanran Mountains. (modern Khangai Mountains). The expression "to carve a stone on Yanran" (Chinese: 勒石燕然) entered the Chinese language as a synonym for achieving a decisive victory.

The Silk Road was initially set forth systematically by Emperor Wu of Han (141-87). Major trade though began only when in the first century the Han under General Ban Chao 班超 (brother of Ban Gu) pacified the Hexi corridor (河西走廊) which was part of the Northern Silk Road leading to the Tarim Basin. Its maritime counterpart probably developed by the 1st century.

"A Maritime Silk Route opened up between Chinese-controlled Giao Chỉ (centred in modern Vietnam, near Hanoi). It extended, via ports on the coasts of India and Sri Lanka, all the way to Roman-controlled ports in Roman Egypt and the Nabataean territories on the northeastern coast of the Red Sea. The earliest Roman glassware bowl found in China was unearthed from a Western Han tomb in Guangzhou, dated to the early 1st century BCE, indicating that Roman commercial items were being imported through the South China Sea."


                                Maritime Silk Road or Route

"A Maritime Silk Road or Route encompassed numbers of bodies of waters; including South China Sea, Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean, Gulf of Bengal, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and the Red Sea ...and also extended eastward to East China Sea and Yellow Sea to connect China with Korean Peninsula and Japanese archipelago." (Revolvy, Silk Road)

Historically speaking--so to speak since a poet speaks rather than an historian--the land and sea routes were therefore formalized at about the same time. They complemented each other. If a shipment were time sensitive or subject to seizure by nomadic robbers along the Gobi or Taklamakan Deserts then one would assume that it was sent by sea. On the other hand, if the shipment were bulky or involved horses, for example, it was sent by the land route.

In some cases, though, shipments might have been sent by sea and land. For instance, let's say that there were a shipment of porcelain from Japan to India. It might be sent at first by ship on a merchant trade route to Nanjing then overland through China to the Silk Road where it would complete its journey. It is no coincidence that Nanjing became the Buddhist cultural center for China and perhaps East Asia between (CE 420-589) since merchants made donations which were applied to monasteries.

As unlikely as it might seem, trade along the land versions of the ancient Silk Roads went hand in hand with the spread of Buddhism. Merchants found Mahayana Buddhism which was one of the three forms of the religion to be appealing. It emphasized "the elusiveness of physical reality, including material wealth." according to Xinru Liu. The merchants also liked to stay at monasteries which were safe havens if not heaven on their mercantile pilgrimage.

"During the 5th and 6th centuries CE, merchants played a large role in the spread of religion, in particular Buddhism." The reasons were twofold. The merchants found the ethical teachings of Buddhism to be attractive so they supported monasteries along the way thereby disseminating Buddhism. Secondly, they helped to "to establish diaspora within the communities they encountered, and over time their cultures became based on Buddhism. "



It was during the Tang Dynasty that Xuanzang and other missionaries visited India in order to access original Buddhist texts. With respect to trade though the Silk Roads it reached its zenith in this period when western merchants of Persia and Sogdiana benefitted commercially and Chinese cities became cosmopolitan as a result of foreign culture. During the Tang Dynasty there was also a strong Chinese maritime presence felt in the West.


However, the silk trade itself was influenced by other factors. One must keep in mind that a decline in the silk trade began with the collapse of the Roman Empire since there was little demand for luxury goods. In addition, enterprising, Nestorian monks learned the art of silk making which had been kept secret since 2700 BCE and were sent by the Byzantine Emperor to steal silkworm eggs resulting in a monopoly for sales in Europe with silk production in Thrace--probably at a monastery.


                            Poem 19 of Banpo Poetry Series
                       inspired by Buddhist Temple at Suzhou

It may be best at this point to switch to an historical, chronological account to avoid the confusion of mixing factual from fictional which seems to be the bane of the modern age. It is factual that a Buddhist monk named Xuanzang (玄奘) left Chang'an (Xian) in 629 CE on his journey to India and returned seventeen years later. He brought with him 657 Sanskrit texts which were translated into Chinese, three copies of of the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra translated by a team, translated the Heart Sutra called the Cheng Weishi Lun and at the request of Emperor Taizong of Tang wrote an account of his travels called the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域記).


                                       Xuanzang (玄奘)

One of the remarkable aspects of his travel is that Xuanzang went on one Silk Road and came back on another. This was a feat that even Marco Polo did not accomplish. The two roads intersect at Dunhuang. It so happens that north of Dunhuang is the Gobi Desert and then one finds Lake Baikal. It is not implied that he visited Lake Baikal, but he may have been told about it as this lake was probably regarded as The Wild Goose Sea or certainly as 北海 which may be translated as the North Sea.       

D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi


revised February 12, 2018