Preface to Documents from the Black River City held in Russia

The following preface by Prof. E. I. Kychanov is taken from Écáng Hēishuǐchéng Wénxiàn 俄藏黑水城文献 [Documents from the Black River City held in Russia] (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 1996-200) vol.1. It recounts the discovery by Pyotr Kozlov in 1908 of the ruins of the Tangut city of Khara-khoto (known in Chinese as "Black City" or "Black River City", and known to Marco Polo as the City of Etzina) on the edge of the Gobi Desert, in western Inner Mongolia. Kozlov subsequently discovered a large number of printed books and manuscripts written in Chinese and Tangut in a stupa 400 metres west of the city walls. Most significantly, among these books were several dictionaries of the extinct Tangut language that allowed for the eventual decipherment of Tangut.

Photograph of the Ruins of the city of Khara-khoto by Aurel Stein

Google Maps view of Khara-khoto


The achievement of discovering the unique St. Petersburg collection of manuscripts of Xixia writing belongs to the professional geographer and traveler Peter Kuz'mich Kozlov (15, Oct. 1863 – 26, Sep. 1935).

P. K. Kozlov was born in the small town of Dukhovshchina in the oblast of smolensk, in a family which drove cattle to market. After completing the local school, he worked as a clerk in an ale brewery in the town of Slobod. It so happened that in precisely this town the by then already renowned traveler and geographer N. M. Przheval'skii had bought himself a summer cottage. In 1882 occurred the meeting of P. K. Kozlov and N. M. Przheval'skii that determined the entire subsequent course of Kozlov's life. Later Kozlov recalled, "That day..., when I myself began freely and frankly to speak with him (Przheval'skii — EIK) I never, never will forget, ... that day decided all my future, and I began to live that future."(1) With the patronage of Przheval'skii, Kozlov continued his education and completed the Smolensk technical middle school (real'noe uchilishche), and in the years 1883-1885, while still quite a young man, took part in the fourth expedition of N. M. Przheval'skii to Central Asia. In 1887, Kozlov completed the St. Petersburg military school and received officer's rank. The subsequent participation of Kozlov in the expeditions of M. V. Pevtsov (1888) and V. I. Roborovskii (1893-1895) prepared him for being entrusted with independent expeditions, the first of which he undertook in 1899-1901.

It appears that G. N. Potanin, traveler and collector of folklore, was the first to learn from the Mongols-Torgots about the abandoned town at the mouth of the Edzin-gol river (Chin. Heishui). In his account of the 1884-1885 journey, Potanin wrote:

From the monuments of antiquity [the Torgots – EIK] mention the town of Erkha-khara-buriuk, i.e., from the most eastern branch of Edzina: here, it is said, a small kerim is visible, that is, the walls of a small town, but around [are] many traces of houses which are covered with sand. Digging in the sand, one finds silver objects. In the environs of the kerim [are] large friable sands, and there is no water nearby.(2)

In 1900 the geologist V. A. Obruchev tried to find the town buried in the sands. Local Mongols not only did not show him where the dead town was located, they led him in an entirely different direction from the location of Khara-khoto.(3) In the same year, Kozlov, finding himself in Mongolia, sent his traveling companion, A. N. Kazankov, to search for the ruins of the town; he also did not find the town. The reason was the same: the local population was concealing information about the ruins.(4)

Preparing for the Mongol-Sichuan journey, Kozlov decided to repeat the search and, taking into consideration the mistakes of his predecessors, to make friends with the local Mongols. "In the recesses of the soul," he wrote later, "I cherished fond thoughts of finding the ruins of the town in the desert of Mongolia."(5)

The project of the Mongol-Sichuan expedition was worked out by the Council of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society with the active participation of the famous geographer and traveler, P. P. Semenova-Tian'shanskii, and of Kozlov personally. On 17 June 1907 Kozlov was received in audience by Tsar Nicholas II. In "Diary of the Mongol-Sichuan journey, 1907-1909" is preserved the following notation:

Received in private audience (incidentally, I presented the Sovereign three volumes of the scientific results of the Tibetan expedition, which had then just come off the press), as never before simple and gentle, I left the Sovereign charmed. At my parting words to His Majesty: "On the example of the Tibetan expedition, which concluded so successfully, permit me to request a blessing for this one too!" – the Sovereign remarked: "I am not bidding farewell. I wish to see you right before departure on your long journey, for surely there still remain many affairs to attend to and time for equipping the expedition."(6)

In fact, on 29 October 1907, before departing on the expedition, Kozlov was again received by the Tsar and by Heir-Apparent Aleksei.

The expedition project was confirmed by the Tsar on 2 October. For the two years' duration of the expedition 30,000 rubles was issued from the treasury; its composition was confirmed at 14 persons.(7) The expedition was given arms–12 rifles with 15,000 cartridges and 6 Smith-Besson revolvers with 600 cartridges.(8)

The leader of the expedition was granted an official authorization, the text of which read:

May it please God, We, Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All Russia and so on, declare hereby to each and every one, to whom it is given to know, that the bearer of this the leader of the scientific expedition dispatched by our Russian Geographical Society by way of Kiakhta and Urga to North-Western China and Mongolia and to return thereupon by way of Lanzhoufu and Urga back to Russia, Lieutenant-colonel of the regiment of Royal Grenadier Guards of Emperor Alexander III, Peter Kuz'mich Kozlov, departs across the frontier and will return later to Russia. Ten persons as crew accompany him. On his behalf we amicably call upon all higher oblasts and invite each before whom they appear. Our Military and Civilian administrations most mercifully command not only to allow P. K. Kozlov and the ten-person crew to proceed in all places freely and without restraint, but also to show him every goodwill and assistance. In evidence of this and for smooth passage is granted this passport with the state seal affixed below. In St. Petersburg, on the day of 12 August in the year 1907 by Decree of His Imperial Majesty, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs,

Seal Signature(9)

The attention of the government of Russia and of the Tsar personally to the expedition, and their support for an undertaking of the Geographical Society, is explained in large part by the impact which the achievements of these expeditions had in the European scientific world. The northern and western regions of China, not undergoing investigation by Chinese scientific powers at the level of the then contemporary European scientific standard, attracted the attention of European scholars. As a result, from the numerous scientific expeditions in the last quarter of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries – English, German, French, Russian, Swedish, Japanese, etc. – impressive achievements were obtained in the areas of geography, ethnography, history, and natural sciences (botany, zoology, etc.). Russian participation in this international scientific movement was weighty and greatly raised the prestige of Russian science.

It would be unjust not to take into consideration the fact that such scientific investigation of the frontiers of the Chinese empire took place in the context of European – American – Japanese political and economic pressure on China, and that topographical surveys of localities by the expeditions, their reports on the state of local affairs could be used for military ends as well. In allowing these expeditions, the Qing government made definite concessions. But now, almost 100 years after such expeditions took place, it is evident that the discovery and preservation for science of Dunhuang and Khara-khoto alone are a most precious contribution to the study of the history of Chinese culture, as well as for Chinese science. That which was most likely to perish irretrievably was saved and preserved down to our day, however incomplete.

I wish especially to emphasize that the expedition operated with the knowledge of the Chinese (Qing) central authorities and under the control of local authorities. Members of the expeditions received permission to carry out research and passports from the central Chinese government. "Chinese passports," wrote Kozlov about the Mongol-Sichuan expedition of 1907-1909, "were received from the Peking government through the offices of the Russian diplomatic mission in Bogdo-khan."(10) The Russian embassy in Peking "informed about the expedition those local Chinese powers through whose areas the expedition would be passing."(11)

Thus through the territory of Mongolia to Urga (Ulan-Bator) the expedition moved, using the Mongolian postal service. "Thanks to the border commissar at Kiakhta...P. E. Genok, who communicated in a timely way with the Chinese-Mongolian authorities, the personnel of the expedition set out handily on Mongolian postal horses...accompanied by the baggage of the expedition, carried on camels specially hired for the expedition from Mongolian contractors."(12) They hired 40 camels.

The expedition did not move through Chinese territory at will. Thus the amban of the city of Xining was informed beforehand of the arrival of Kozlov's expedition.(13) In the archives of the Geographical Society is preserved a draft of a letter from Kozlov to the authorities in the province of Gansu, with the heading "To the Commission on Foreign Affairs of Gansu Province." The text of the letter says, "In consequence of a letter of the Committee on Foreign Affairs from 15 November 1908, I beg to inform that I, Russian traveler and Lieutenant-colonel Kozlov, in fact had discussions with the Xining qinchai as well as with the tongpan (vice prefect – RWD) of Guidui about our route of travel from Guidui through Labrang to Songpanting."(14) The letter was dated 22 November 1908.

In this fashion, it bears emphasizing, all movements of Kozlov's expedition were accomplished with the complete knowledge of Qing authorities and no arbitrary actions were permitted.

As far as the discovery and excavation of Khara-khoto are concerned, all that was likewise done with the knowledge and with the help of the Mongolian prince in Qing service, Baldyn-Dzasak, and the Torgot beila, who ruled the territory entrusted to them as Mongolian territory, a constituent of the Qing empire under special administration of the Lifanyuan.

At the beginning of March 1918, the expedition reached the borders of Ugoldzin-tologa, the headquarters of the local Mongolian prince Baldyn-Dzasak. When the conversation touched on the possible further route of the expedition and the prince realized that Kozlov wanted to gain the mouth of the river Edzin-gol, he asked:

"Why do you want so much to go to Edzin-gol, and not directly to Alashan-yamun, where the road is better and it takes less time as well, and therefore fewer difficulties and deprivations and also fewer material losses. No doubt," added the prince, "you expect something of great interest at Edzin-gol?" "Yes!" I answered Baldyn-Dzasak, "You are right: some very curious ruins of an ancient town are there!" "And how do you know about that?" inquired my interlocutor. "From books by our travelers and from letters of my friends," I replied. "Indeed there is!" the prince said slowly, plunged in thought. "I heard about Kharakhoto from my people, they have been there; in truth a town exists, enclosed by walls, but it has gradually become covered over with sand ... I have been told that Torgots go to the ruins there and dig and search for buried treasures. I've heard something to the effect that someone even found something. Go and see, and maybe you will even find something remarkable. I don't think that the Torgots will block your route to the ruins, nor will they block even your excavations ... The Torgots lately have been quietly hiding Khara-khoto and the old path to Alashan-yamun."(15)

That was the sum of the conversation. But originally both the prince and two of his advisers, as Kozlov wrote on 12 March 1908 in a letter to the secretary of the Go [Geographical Society — RWD], "tried to persuade me that in the direction I desired there was no road."(16) Gifts helped, foremost a revolver and a rifle, entertainment and listening to the gramophone, and a letter to the Russian embassy in Peking with a request to address the Qing authorities about conferring on Baldyn-Dzasak the higher rank of "ulusun-tushi-gung" which would have increased three-fold the upkeep that he received from the Bogdo-khan court.(17) Hence Kozlov, like his predecessors, could not have found Khara-khoto without the help of Baldyn-Dzasak.

His second helper on the path to Khara-khoto was the Torgot prince, Torgot-beila Dashi. As Kozlov observed later in a public lecture, Dashi "to a significant degree rendered assistance to the expedition, and made it possible to find Khara-khoto."(18) After a conversation with the Kazak-Buriat Badmazhapov, the Torgot-beila "charged his ... guide to convey the expedition to the neighborhood of his headquarters ..., and promised full cooperation ... in reaching the ruins of Khara-khoto."(19) The Torgot-beila was indirectly subordinated to the Lifanyuan.(20)

On 1 April 1908, five members of the expedition, Kozlov himself, A. A. Chernov, N. Ia. Napalkov, and the Kazaks Ivanov and Madaev accompanied by the guide Bata departed for the ruins of Khara-khoto by way of the margins of Toroi-onts. Bata "had been at the dead town many times."(21) From the expedition's camp to Khara-khoto was about 60-65 li.

Halfway we began to encounter traces of an agricultural or settled culture – millstones, signs of irrigation canals, fragments of earthen and porcelain vessels, and so on. But pounded earth structures engaged us most of all, especially the suburgans, situated singly, by two, or by five along the rode, of old leading to Khara-khoto, that monument of the past buried in the desert sands. As we approached the cherished goal, our excitement mounted apace. In three versts [about 8 li – EIK] we crossed an ancient dry riverbed ... on the elevated band of the river stood the ruins of the citadel of Altan-khoto, where, according to legend, was once situated the cavalry guard detachment of Khara-khoto. By the sides of the desiccated riverbed, it appeared, earlier had been tucked a valley with a farming population. Here, at last, appeared the town of Khara-khoto itself, situated at the bottom of a terrace of coarse sand. Above the northwestern corner of the fortress rose the main conically-shaped suburgan, in a row of smaller adjoining ones, built likewise on the wall and next to the wall outside the fortress. As we got closer to the town fragments of vessels appeared in greater numbers; the view of the town was hidden by tall sand dunes. But then we climbed the terrace and before our eyes appeared Khara-khoto in all its outward charm.(22)

Judging by Kozlov's description, the walls of the town

were strictly oriented to the north, south, east and west, forming a regular square, of which each side was about a verst [approx. 2.5 li – EIK]. The western and eastern walls of the town had gates, protected by L-shaped projections difficult of direct approach, and situated not directly one opposite the other, but the eastern a bit to the north, and the western a bit to the south of the center of the walls. From west to east two main parallel streets bisected the town, starting from the gate ... The powerful walls of the town, 6-8 meters in height, were crowned by stately suburgans in their northwestern corner. The walls gradually narrowed toward the top, and their thickness, reaching 4-6 meters at the base, diminished by one half ... Each wall had several bastions ... Small remains of former structures, protruding from the sand, refuse, and earth, fairly clearly delineated the former streets of the town.(23)

During the initial inspection of the town, the members of the expedition found fragments of earthen and porcelain vessels, scraps of articles of cast-iron, iron, copper and silver, bricks, cash, paper money, and "here and there cult objects."

The expedition remained in Khara-khoto from the first to the 13th of April, 1908. Overall the survey and excavation lacked a scientific archeological foundation. As Kozlov himself wrote in his diary, he and his people "dug, rummaged, broke, smashed."(24) There was no precise fixing of the location of finds, although in the map of the town(25) Kozlov indicated Ruins No. 1, No. 2, and No. 4 in the northern half of the town, somewhat to the east of the central north-south axis, Ruin No. 3 in the southern part of the eastern half of the town, suburgan B in the southeast of the central part of the town and suburgan A in its southwest corner, ruins of idols [Buddhist statues – RWD] near the southern half of the western walls. Judging by various references, there was found:

Ruin No. 1: "Buddhist images, drawn on linen," "heavy, coarse metal cups and scraps of manuscripts in Xixia writing."

Ruin No. 3: "sheets of Persian manuscripts, ... fragments from the famous collection of stories, "Seven Sages" (Kitab-i-Sindbid), "Islamic manuscripts and artistic book bindings."

Suburgan A: 3 books and 30 notebooks in Xixia script, "an image on linen," "Appearance of Amitabha," "an image in Chinese style on silk," "a large, slightly smiling attractive mask and a series of other heads and masks," "a Buddha head, gilded with dark blue hair."

Suburgan B: "several specimens of glass-like eyes that had fallen out of the earthen statues," "eyes of rock crystal or topaz, nicely polished," "large, flat tsa-tsa."(26)

Summarizing the results of the first visit to Khara-khoto, Kozlov remarked:

In the course of several days passed in the ruins of Khara-khoto, overall the expedition enriched itself with all kinds of objects: books, letters, papers, metal monetary tokens, female decorations, some household implements, images of the Buddhist cult, and so on. In terms of quantities, we gathered archeological material that filled ten 16-kilogram mailing crates, prepared then for shipping to the Russian Geographical Society.(27)

Taking advantage of the good, amicable relations of the Torgot – beila with the expedition, I at once sent through the Mongolian post to Urga and beyond to Petersburg, in several concurrent packages, news of the actual discovery of Kharakhoto and its finds, and enclosed samples of writing and religious painting for immediate study and identification.(28)

In December of 1908, while on the border of Guidui, Kozlov received a response from the deputy chairman of the Geographical Society A. V. Grigor'ev. Kozlov wrote in his diary:

A. V. Grigor'ev, as assistant to the chairman, notified me ... about my labors, or their results at Khara-khoto. It turns out that it was the Tangut capital of Xixia, which existed from the 11th to the 14th centuries. Evidently the Geographical Society is very satisfied with this discovery, and it is decided to propose that I return again to the historic town on the way back ... to augment the materials of such great interest already obtained and partly in Petersburg.(29)

The diary entry is duplicated in a draft letter of 23 December 1908 to the secretary of the Royal Geographical Society in London. Kozlov informed the British Royal Geographical Society that the third stage of his expedition would be devoted to

additional excavations, more protracted than before, of the dead town of Khara-khoto. For the time being I have received a letter from the deputy chairman of the Russian Geographical Society. On the basis of acquaintance with the writing and other documents that I sent to Petersburg, he hastens to gratify me that the Khara-khoto I discovered is Xixia, the capital of the Tangut state, which existed from the llth-l4th centuries ... When You, dear sovereign, receive this letter, your humble servant will be on the road to Southern Mongolia and within a further two months already at his beloved ruins of Xixia.(30)

With all due respect to my native colleagues, to this day I cannot understand who decided, and on what basis, the Kozlov "found" the capital of the Tangut state. As early as 1833 the large monograph of N. Ia. Bichurin (o. Iakinf) was published, which contains considerable Chinese material on the history of Xixia, translated into Russian, and from which it was entirely clear that the Xixia capital was Ningxia, as it was called in Kozlov's day, the present-day city of Yinchuan.(31) Unfortunately, this error continues to occur in the literature connected with the name of P. K. Kozlov.(32) From Tangut primary sources, we know that Edzina (Khara-khoto, Chin. Heishui) not only was not the capital of Xixia, but was rather a third-rank town, a place of exile for hard labor. It perished in 1374 in a battle between Ming China and the Mongols, desirous of recovering their lost power over China.

On 15 October 1908 in a special session of the Geographical Society were heard three reports, by S. F. Ol'denburg, A. I. Ivanov and V. L. Kotvich, about the initial studies of the finds from Khara-khoto. It was reported that "the manuscripts extracted from the ruins, were, besides Chinese, written in an unknown language, at least none of them could read it, although the form of writing was known."(33)

A. B. Grigor'ev informed Kozlov that "in view of the importance of the present discovery, the Council of the Geographical Society has authorized me to propose to you that you not ensconce yourself in Sichuan, but rather return to the Gobi desert and continue the investigation of the heart of the dead town. Do not begrudge either strength, or time, or resources on the further excavations."(34)

At the end of May-June 1909 Kozlov, fulfilling the charge of the Geographical Society, returned to the Khara-khoto region. On 27 May he made a note in his diary: "I write ... the time is five o'clock, but the heat is making itself strongly felt and involuntarily induces reflection on how we will work at dead, melancholy Kharakhoto."(35) June 4. "At ten in the morning through the dusty haze we saw, at last, the familiar grey walls of Khara-khoto, and within half an hour we had already entered into the fortress and not far from the western gates and the angle of the NW suburgan had set up our tents."(36)

Large-scale investigation of the town would have been impossible without the help of the Torgot-beila. In a letter of 8 July 1909 to the secretary of the Geographical Society, Kozlov made special mention of this help:

The expedition was able to pass through the desert to a hitherto unknown corner of Central Asia, over a rather long road and at a hot time of year, thanks only to the excellent relations of the local Torgot-beila with us, which allowed us to hire, from among his subjects, diggers, water-carriers, provisioners, etc. Thus the dead town momentarily came alive and established contact with the inhabitants of Edzin-gol, of which its closest branch, the eastern, flows twelve versts from Khara-khoto. This time our camp took shelter not in the center of the fort, as before, but somewhat closer to the western wall beside the ruins of a large fangzi (house).(37)

In the book he wrote, "I renewed friendly relations with the Torgot-beila, as before the chief in Edzin-gol, ... secured his cooperation in hiring digger-workers, and also engaged Torgots to supply us daily with water and sheep from Edzin-gol."(38)

For his part, the Torgot-beila, as representative of local authority, did not ignore the work of the expedition; he regularly sent officials from his government to Kharakhoto to "find out how the Russians are doing in the ruins."(39)

At the start of the work, Kozlov noted in his diary:

From the first day we began to find writing, primarily Chinese, paper money, dishes, old weapons and so on. We also came across a small metal Buddha, dokshit, a small square Tibetan notebook of splendid gold writing was found.

One can say that last time, outwardly at least, we investigated Khara-khoto in a rather orderly manner. Now we have found neither sneeze nor bead nor metal ornaments. Standing on the wall of Khara-khoto, you can see how beautifully and conveniently this town was laid out. In the NW region: the prince himself, along the northern, western and southern walls were situated prayer structures, suburgans ... In the SE corner stables with the garrison section ... the main thoroughfare lead directly from a tall central building, which was encircled by a cross street and then by a longitudinal [street extending] to the eastern gates.(40)

The work was organized by two groups; the hired Mongol workers under the direction of a Kazak-Buriat "systematically examined the ruins of houses along several streets of Khara-khoto, and occasionally tried to dig deep wells in places designated by me." The Russian group led the excavation both inside the town as well as "carrying out the investigation outside the Khara-khoto walls, at distances both near and far."(41)

Judging by his diary, Kozlov was not present on a regular basis and the finds, even if interesting, were not fixed in any way in the plan of the town. It appears that Kozlov imagined he understood how Tibetan writing looks, but Chinese and Tangut graphs he did not much distinguish. For him it was all "Chinese stuff."

June 9. "Just now, at around four o'clock, workers appeared before me, I spoke with them, and now they have all gone to their tasks. Interest mounts steadily, and I will go to the digs. It is hard to sit in the yurt, when you hear the sounds of those working and the clatter of shovels in the earth ... the manuscripts we chance upon are most often other Chinese, and I don't know what they will tell us. Most of all the Tibetan ones interest me, both books and manuscripts, but ... in those we have not yet been lucky. As for today it was entirely Chinese stuff, the interesting Tibetan letters turn up charred, those graphs that were spared lead to the thought of origins other than Tibetan ... We will find out in Petersburg."(42)

On 11 June, to an earlier comment about the absence of any burials, Kozlov added: "we have come across no clothing or shoes."(43) The cool, windy, even at first rainy weather turned hot. On 12 June Kozlov wrote a letter to A. A. Dostoevskyi of the Geographical Society.

Dear Andrei Andreevich! On the twenty-second of May (3 June – EIK) the expedition arrived at Khara-khoto and has set up camp within its historic walls, in the interesting ruins. In our year-long absence from the old town no one has dropped in: its ruins look in exactly the same condition as when we left it. Untouched even are those objects extracted by us from beneath the wreckage of debris, which we left as unneeded. As in the first sojourn and so now, with the arrival of the expedition Khara-khoto has come to life: people started moving, instruments started pounding, dust began flying through the dry air. In the week just past we have succeeded in replenishing the previous archeological collections, already sent to the Geographical Society. And this time we have obtained and continue to obtain writing, including Arabic too, as well as monetary tokens and cult objects, etc. In one of the projections in the northern part of the fortress walls we came across an interesting little temple with earthen ornamented Buddhas opposite the entrance and curious wall paintings; unfortunately the paintings are glued to the clay and it is not possible to avail ourselves of them. Not only my companions but also the natives have become imbued with interest in the excavations. We talk only about Khara-khoto: in the evening, about what was found that day; in the morning, about what will be found. Time flies swiftly. After the nocturnal meteorological observations, we go right to sleep. We awake practically at dawn and in the relative cool conduct our work. During the day we rest, otherwise we languish all the more in the debilitating heat, such that in the shade the air warms to 37 degrees C and more, and the surface of the ground becomes incandescent in the sun to above 60 degrees C. Dust or sand raised by the hot air, positively enervates. But on the other hand we breath easily and freely in the mornings and evenings, feeling ourselves yet capable of carrying out further labors at Khara-khoto.(44)

Because after days of work in the town's ruins the finds were not as abundant as would be desirable, Kozlov sent people to investigate the vicinity and took the decision to open the large suburgan, which was located about 400 meters from the western wall of the town, on the right bank of the dry river channel. The suburgan was about 10 meters high and consisted of "a pedestal, the middle, and a conical, partially destroyed top, wrecked either by time or by treasure hunters," that is, attempts to open the suburgan evidently had been undertaken also by earlier local inhabitants. If they had succeeded, then it is very likely that science would have been deprived of that collection of religious paintings, sculpture, and books which it now has at its disposal.

On 12 June began the excavation of the suburgan, the same in which, we may suppose, was found the majority of books in the Xixia language and in Chinese.

Passing around the Mongols who had been working, I headed for my companions who were investigating one of the largest suburgans standing west of the town at a distance of 200 fathoms [1 Russ. fathom = 7 ft.]. The investigation had revealed that it was rich in Buddhas and Chinese writings, so many of which had been carried to the bivouac by 9:00 in the morning that I at once went out to them, sorted, cleaned of accumulated dust, and prepared them for packing. Similar to what had been in the suburgan of the previous year, in this one were all kinds of books, notebooks, scrolls, paintings. A very old mandala turned up. Probably the roof of the suburgan's chapel fell in and overturned the Buddhas, or else they were, from the very beginning, scattered about so, books and scrolls and paintings tossed every which way.(45)

Work on the excavation of the suburgan continued for nine days and was completed on 20 June. The books were carried to the camp in a huge tarpaulin, and sorted there. Without a knowledge of the languages, this "sorting" by format or yet by some characteristic unknown to us brought, to a certain extent, that, chaos which it has not been possible to eliminate completely to this very day, Kozlov himself did not observe the excavations on a regular basis. About the circumstances of the interior furnishing of the suburgan there is only one notation in the diary from 15 June.

Today I strolled out to the suburgan to see if much remained in it of archeological goods, and came to the conclusion that my fellows are right, having observed that but a mere half has been taken. In the upper portion of the stupa all has been cleaned, arranged round about, seated, large wood-earthen Buddhas, and in the middle books, writings, books — large, small, in bindings or boards, as notebooks or scrolls.(46)

If we compare two diary entries from 12 June and 15 June, we will observe that according to the excavations, Kozlov writes now about the disorderly "scattered" books, now about books arranged in a particular order. Later, when the news about the celebrated finds, "the pearl of my independent labors in Central Asia," as Kozlov himself wrote, flew around the world and Kozlov attracted real world fame, he inclined in his recollections even to an exemplary order in the suburgan: "We opened the celebrated suburgan. It was packed with treasures. Hardly had we removed its roof, when books appeared, standing by the hundreds all on shelves in complete order in silk bindings. We found more than 2000 books."(47) In the book Mongoliia i Amdo i mertvyi gorod Khara-khoto, Kozlov stresses that in the upper portion of the suburgan everything lay in disorder, whereas in the lower portion there was some order:

All the riches collected in the celebrated suburgan: books, images, statues and other objects ... lay in extreme disorder. In a still lower part of the storehouse was marked a kind of system: part of the earthen statues were positioned at one level, with faces to the inside, resembling lamas performing a religious service in front of the great sheets of Xixia manuscript writing, deposited by the hundreds one on top of another.

The higher up, the more chaotically was grouped the riches of the suburgan, books lying in piles and singly, tightly pressing against each other or against images, coiled up individually on wooden rollers. Both the books and the images were placed in the most diverse positions, like the statues, enclosed among them. Only at the base of the suburgan were noticed some books carefully wrapped up in silk cloth.(48)

For the time being one can suggest that both the testimony of chaos and of order is true. At the bottom of the suburgan ("on the ground" in Kozlov's expression, a square of roughly 3 by 4 meters, or about 12 square meters), where the burial was found, around it "sat" wood-earthen Buddhas, and before them "for reading" were placed books – the diary entry of 20 June says that "the statues were found" on a raised interior floor of the suburgan, around a landing in the center of which stood the pillar."(49) On the walls of the lower part of the suburgan hung icons. Sculpture in the actual proportion of the human body, it seems, was by Kozlov's admission superior artistic work. An entry of 19 June from the diary: "I write in delight of all and those graceful Buddha heads. Some of them are so artistically executed, that they stand and look as if alive ... From the face it is evident that the artist-sculptor had a feel for classical beauty."(50) The icons removed from the suburgan were stunning in their vividness and freshness of beauty; "All," in Kozlov's words, "were flooded with a soft blue and soft pink radiance." Yet it was worthwhile to move the icons ... and the dyes crumbled.

We must acknowledge that the books and icons, statues, things in the upper part of the suburgan could have been in disorder. Obviously, in spring of 1226 on the eve of the Mongolian invasion, things from the city's temples were hidden in the suburgan and, possibly, the city administration. It is hardly likely that such a great quantity of Buddhist and other texts would have been placed in the suburgan at the very beginning. From the notations of Kozlov, it is clear that, although there were two suburgans opened, and there were finds of writing in the territory of the town, the mass of written documents come from the "celebrated suburgan."

On 19 June Kozlov made the following notation about the finds in his diary: "I would have taken everything, but did not have the capability." That part which he was unable to cart away, Kozlov buried in the sand. As to where the place is located where was everything was hidden for future retrieval, in the diary is preserved the following notation:

Before our departure from Khara-khoto we took from that room [at the southern wall of the town – EIK] our remaining treasure and hid it at the slope from the fortress farther south of the suburgan right along the wall, covered with sand. I did this just in case.(51)

Apparently something was buried right in the southern wall. We read in the diary entry of 11/23:

Today we collected and hid everything that was brought to the bivouac, that is, every last thing from the suburgan, and carried it to the southern [at the wall of the room] interior part of the wall, to the niche. There we placed several Buddhas, artistically executed to a greater or lesser degree. There lie heads [up to 30 or more Russ. pounds in weight, that is, 12 kilograms or more – EIK] and so on. There are many trifles, in general about fifty items.(52)

It is possible, however, that whatever was hidden in the southern wall, Kozlov, however incompletely, took away at the time of the second visit to Khara-khoto in 1926. In the shorthand notes of the report, which Kozlov read on 8 December 1926, we notice the following notation: "We thought that this time we would find nothing, but overall we found rather a lot, mainly statues and artistic heads."(53)

But the things buried outside the southern wall, at its foot, and above all those great sculptures which were in the depths of the suburgan, apparently have never been found to this day. Chinese archeologists should carry out investigation and excavations at the southern wall.

Above we have already written that when the suburgan was excavated, it was observed that in the center of the platform at the base of the suburgan was stuck a wooden pole, around which grandly sat sculptured representations of monks, with faces turned to the interior of the suburgan and who looked like lamas performing a religious service. Before them lay books, evidently the pothi-books in the collections of the St. Petersburg branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, and many sheets of manuscript books, laid one on top of the other. These were books in that form which was widespread in India and Tibet. At the northern wall of the suburgan a skeleton was noticed in a seated posture. In the diary Kozlov writes:

We at last opened the head of the seated person, a gegeng probably, in whose honor the suburgan was erected. The skull allows one to say that the deceased was about 40 years of age and belonged to the type or tribe of Tibeto-Ari-Mongolian. The gegeng was buried in the seated posture, against the northern wall, in an honored place, at the foot of a Buddha of the highest importance and greatest size, with the faces of Buddhas turned toward the center, and the gegeng to the south.(54)

Since the skull from the suburgan was sent to Russia, it was more carefully studied. Anthropologist F. Volkov came to the following conclusion:

The skull is in very good condition. Some narrowing at the base, rounding, very weakly developed bony projections, very small teeth, the overall small size and fine features of the face of the skeleton incline to support the opinion that this skull belonged to a woman, in spite of the superciliary arch, rather well developed for a female skeleton, which might raise some doubt. Judging by the condition of the teeth and the skull joints one can estimate the age of the deceased at close to old age (more than fifty years).(55)

The skull was kept at the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences, where it was lost, very likely during the years of the blockade of Leningrad. In any case, the author of these lines does not know if it was examined a second time.

Professor L. N. Men'shikov has put forward the romantic hypothesis that an empress of the Tangut state, Empress Luo, widow of the Tangut emperor Renzong (r. 1139-1193), was entombed in the suburgan. Empress Luo was dowager empress during the reign of her son, Chunyou (Huanzong, r. 1194-1206). After the first Mongolian attack on the territory of Xixia in 1205, Chunyou, not without the participation of his mother the empress, was deprived of power by his cousin Anquan (Xiangzong, r. 1206- 1211). Basing himself on the possibility that the interred was female, Men'shikov considers that "we can be sure that after her son was overthrown, she was distanced from state affairs. Her further fate is unknown, but several data ... suggest that she became a Buddhist nun, was exiled to Khara-khoto and after her death was buried in the 'celebrated suburgan'."(56) From this supposition Men'shikov reaches a substantive conclusion: "the collection in the 'celebrated suburgan' was her private library," "we are obliged to this woman for the fact that these books from Khara-khoto survived to our day."(57)

The hypothesis of Men'shikov is a supposition, a clever supposition but nothing more. But it can only be refuted if the skeleton from the suburgan is found and if a qualified anthropological examination is carried out, firmly establishing that the skull is not female (we saw that U. F. Volkov had some doubt of it), but male, which Kozlov was initially inclined to think. If a woman was really buried in the suburgan, and if we allow that the woman was the Empress Luo, then it is possible that some of the books could be from her personal library. We will note only that, among the books in Xixia, the name of Empress Luo can only be affirmed twice, both times as the bestower of the books (once it was mentioned in the colophon and once a seal recording the bestowal was affixed). In both instances these could be not her own personal books, but rather books which were distributed by her, as by other empresses and donors, about which there is lots of evidence. Books were disseminated throughout the state. In the conventional expression of prefaces and colophons, they were "distributed among the officials and people." The presence of such books, strictly speaking, does not mean that these were necessarily the personal books of the Empress Luo or any emperor who disseminated the edition of the book.

Before the departure of the expedition from Khara-khoto, the Torgot-beila visited the ruins of the town. "On the day of the expedition's departure on its next journey," wrote Kozlov a little later to the secretary of the Geographical Society,

the summer sunrise had just reddened the east, when the Torgot-beila came to me on a farewell visit, accompanied by his heir apparent, an attractive, appealing thirteen-year old boy and his entire staff of officials, fine young fellows mounted valiantly on excellent great horses of the Dzungar breed. I was genuinely happy to have the chance personally to thank this Mongolian prince, who had repeatedly shown us more cooperation and consideration during the investigation of Kharakhoto than during the first visit of the expedition.(58)

About the approximate quantity found and brought back from the "celebrated suburgan" we know from the notes of the public report by Kozlov on 8 December, 1926.

Seventeen years ago 40 camel loads were brought out from the ruins of my Khara-khoto. What did they carry? They carried a superbly preserved library consisting of 24,000 tomes ... I remember the joy of sinologist A. I. Ivanov, who, upon finding it (the Tangut-Chinese lexicon of 1190, "Zhang zhong zhu" – EIK), loudly cried out, "Petr Kuz'mich! In your library I have made a discovery, I have found a dictionary which allows one to read 700 volumes." If one adds another 537 paintings to that library, ... then it becomes clear how great is the wealth which comprised that celebrated suburgan.(59)

In fall of 1909 the materials from Khara-khoto were delivered to Petersburg and placed in the building of the Geographical Society. At the beginning of 1910 an exhibition of objects of the Buddhist cult and books found at Khara-khoto was organized by the Society. Thinking of the fate of the unique finds brought back from the expedition, Kozlov wrote from Moscow to S. F. Ol'denburg at the end of winter, 1910:

All the Khara-khoto material is kept for the time being in spare rooms at the Society, upstairs. A. I. Ivanov and V. L. Kotvich are working on their preservation. After searching, Ivanov found a dictionary which enabled the decipherment of Xixia writing... The question of how to deal with Khara-khoto is still not resolved. Personally I am inclined toward the academic Asiatic Museum. I think that you are similarly inclined, no?(60)

In fact, in the end that is what happened. All the books and monuments of writing were given to the Asiatic Museum of the Academy of Sciences, the direct descendant of which today is the St. Petersburg branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, whereas the icons, sculptures and monuments of material culture at first were located at the Ethnographic section of the Russian Museum, and then ended up at the State Hermitage.

Professor A. I. Ivanov was the first to undertake the decipherment and identification of Tangut texts in the Asiatic Museum. Besides the dictionary Fan han heshi zhang zhong zhu, he discovered both Tangut explanatory dictionaries, like Yintong ("Homophones") and Wenhai ("Sea of Writings"), as well as thematic ones. In an article of 1918, Monuments of Tangut Writing," Ivanov remarks:

1. Dictionary of Tangut characters, arranged by initial (labial, dental, sibilant) sounds, without detailed explanations.

2. Dictionary of Tangut characters, composed on the model of the famous Chinese dictionary Guangyun and carrying the title "Sea of Words."

3. Dictionary, arranged by matters (without beadings).(61)

Reference is to the dictionaries Yintong, Wenhai and Zazi. By 1918 Ivanov had compiled a dictionary (Tangut-Chinese-Russian?) of three thousand Tangut characters. The dictionary was even given to the Academy of Sciences press, but in the years of the civil war it was not published. In 9/2/1935 Ivanov wrote to V. M. Alekseev: "It is a pity that Nevskii is not familiar with my manuscript, which lay at the Academy from 1919 to 1922, while I, retrieving it, have decided not to write anymore. The manuscript is with me, with comments about its reception and return." In so far as the manuscript of the dictionary was at Ivanov's home, evidently it disappeared at the time of his arrest in the summer of 1937. Along with Ivanov, initial work on the Kharakhoto materials was undertaken by the Mongolist and Manchu scholar V. L. Kotvich,(62) and also S. F. Ol'denburg.(63)

Later, study and publication of monuments of writing from Khara-khoto in the Chinese and in the Xixia languages took place separately. For the history of the study of monuments of Chinese writing from Khara-khoto see the monograph by L. N. Men' shikov;(64) for the Tangut part, there are a series of publications over many years.(65)

After Ivanov, at different times A. A. Dragunov, N. A. Nevskii, Z. I. Gorbacheva, E. I. Kychanov, A. P. Terent'ev-katanskii, and K. B. Kepping worked on the analysis of books in the Xixia language. The author of these lines has prepared a manuscript of a short description of the Buddhist portion of the collection.

With the realization of the present publication by the Shanghai Chinese Classics Publishing House of the monuments of writing from Khara-khoto, Chinese and world scholarship will have access to unique material from the llth-l4th centuries, which without doubt will shed new light on Chinese culture and the existence of Chinese culture in the Xixia state, as well as on the vanished culture of the Tangut people. It so happened (the circumstances of which were explained briefly above) that part of the cultural monuments from the territory of China ended up beyond the borders of the country; however, this is a widespread phenomenon in the fate of the cultural monuments of many peoples. Now, upon returning through the present publication a part of these cultural monuments to the Chinese researcher and the Chinese reader, and indeed to the entire world scholarly community. I am convinced that Chinese colleagues and all educated people of China, all Chinese who love and are proud of their culture, and colleagues abroad will pay a tribute of respect to the Russian traveler, geographer and naturalist P. K. Kozlov, who found, valued, and handed over to the hands of science genuinely unique materials from Khara-khoto. I suggest that those Russian scientists also deserve thanks who in the difficult conditions of war, revolution, and blockade preserved, gradually analyzed and restored the rare manuscripts and xylographs, wrote an inventory and compiled the first catalogues.

The scientific community knows and values the labors of Chinese specialists of Xixia, Luo Fucheng, Luo Fuchang, Wang Jingru, Shi Jinbo, Li Fanwen, Bai Bin, Huang Zhenhua, Nie Hongyin, Chen Bingying, Luo Maokun and many others. Much has been done, but even more must be done. Unfortunately, the means are lacking for a full and complete restoration of books from Khara-khoto, and here is where even more and difficult work needs to be done. Hundreds of fragments, which no one has yet looked at, must be identified; needed are young enthusiasts who will decide to set themselves to the task. But gradually the circle of researchers on Xixia culture will widen and we will see interest in this culture not only in China, Japan, and Russia but also in the United States, Great Britain, France, Sweden, and Holland. The author of these lines is convinced that when translations made in the Xixia language from Tibetan become the property of science, then the interest in Tangut texts of researchers in Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism will grow. The materials from Khara-khoto are invaluable resources for the study of Far Eastern regional cultures, whose center was Chinese culture, a vivid example of the interaction of local cultures and the cultures of China, and of the formation on this soil of new forms of culture as elements of Far Eastern culture. We can be certain that the high-minded labor of workers at the Shanghai Chinese Classics Publishing House, which will open access to the monuments of Xixia culture to all who are interested in them, will elicit the deserved, great esteem of the world scientific community.

E. I. Kychanov

June 23, 1994, St. Petersburg

Translated by Ruth W. Dunnell


(1) P. K. Kozlov, N. M. Przheval'skii, first explorer of nature in Central Asia, St. Petersburg, 1913, p. 84.

(2) G. N. Potanin, Tangutsko-tibetskaia okraina Kitaia i Tsentral'naia Mongolia: Puteshestvie G. N. Potanin, 1884-1885 (The Tangut-Tibet border of China and Central Mongolia: the travel notes of G. N. Potanin, 1884-1885), St. Petersburg, 1893, p. 464.

(3) V. A. Obruchev, Tsentral'naia Aziia, Severnyi Kitai i Nan'shan' (Central Asia, Northern China and Nanshan), vol. II, St. Petersburg, 1900-1901, pp. 399-400.

(4) Kozlov, Mongoliia i Amdo i mertvyi gorod Khara-khoto (Mongolia, Amdo and the dead town of Khara-khoto), Petrograd, 1923, p. 100. Hereafter: Kozlov 1923.

(5) Kozlov 1923, p. 3.

(6) "Dnevnik Mongolo-Sychuan'skogo puteshestviia 1907-1909" ("Diary of Mongolia-Sichuan journey 1907-1909"), Arkhiv Geograficheskogo obshchestva (Archives of the Geographical Society), fond 18, opis' I, no. 154. Hereafter: "Dnevnik", fond-f., opis'-op., Geograficheskoe obshchestvo-GO.

(7) Arkhiv GO, f.18, op. I, no. 59.

(8) Arkhiv GO, f.18, op. I, no. 100.

(9) idem.

(10) The draft manuscript of the book, Mongoliia i Amdo i mertvyi gorod Khara-khoto, Arkhiv GO, f.18, op. I, no. 61.

(11) Shorthand notes of the expedition report, Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 59.

(12) Kozlov 1923, pp. 19-20.

(13) Shorthand notes of the expedition report, Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 59.

(14) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 49.

(15) Kozlov 1923, pp. 76-77.

(16) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 46.

(17) Kozlov 1923, P. 78.

(18) Shorthand notes of the expedition report, Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 59.

(19) Kozlov 1923, p. 95.

(20) Kozlov 1923, p. 99.

(21) Kozlov 1923, p. 102.

(22) Kozlov 1923, pp. 102-104.

(23) E. I. Kychanov, Zvuchat lish' pis'mena (Sounding only in writing), Moscow, 1965, pp. 27-28.

(24) Kozlov, "Dnevnik", Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 154.

(25) Kozlov 1923, p. 108.

(26) Kozlov 1923, pp. 108-109.

(27) Kozlov 1923, p. 112.

(28) idem.

(29) Kozlov, "Dnevnik", Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 156.

(30) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 50.

(31) o. Iakinf, Istoriia Tibeta i Khukhunora (The history of Tibet and Koko-nor), St. Petersburg, 1833.

(32) See Ye. M. Murzaev, V serdtse Azii (In the heart of Asia), Moscow, 1990, p. 12.

(33) E. I. Kychanov, Zvuchat lish' pis'mena, p. 33.

(34) Kozlov 1923, p. 406.

(35) Kozlov, "Dnevnik", Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 156.

(36) idem.

(37) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 55.

(38) Kozlov 1923, pp. 546-547.

(39) Kozlov 1923, pp. 547-548.

(40) Kozlov, "Dnevnik, Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 157.

(41) Kozlov 1923, p. 550.

(42) Kozlov, "Dnevnik", Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 157.

(43) idem.

(44) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 54.

(45) Kozlov, "Dnevnik", Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 157.

(46) idem.

(47) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 65.

(48) Kozlov 1923, p. 556.

(49) Kozlov, "Dnevnik", Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 157.

(50) idem.

(51) idem.

(52) idem.

(53) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 124.

(54) Kozlov, "Dnevnik", Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 157.

(55) Kozlov, 1923, pp. 555-556.

(56) L. N. Men'shikov, Opisanie kitaiskoi chasti kollektsii iz Khara-khoto (Description of the Chinese manuscripts from Khara-khoto), fond P. K. Kozlov, Moscow, 1984, p. 75.

(57) idem.

(58) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 55.

(59) Arkhiv GO, f. 18, op. I, no. 124.

(60) Arkhiv Akademii Nauk, RAN, (Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences), f. 208, op. 3, no. 274.

(61) A. I. Ivanov, "Pamiatniki tangutskogo pis'ma" ("Tangut manuscripts"), Izvestiia Rossiiskoi Akademii Nauk (Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences), series VI, 1918, pp. 799-800. In addition to this, see the publication by Ivanov, "Dokumenty iz Khara-khoto (Documents from Khara-khoto), the Chinese private letter of the 13th century", Izvestiia Imperatorskoi Akademii Nauk (Bulletin of the Imperial Academy of Sciences), 1913; "From the finds of P. K. Kozlov at Kharakhoto", Izvestiia Imperatorskogo Geograficheskogo obshchestva (Bulletin of the Imperial Geographical Society), vol. XLV, 1909, pp. 463-477; "Stranitsa iz istorii Si Sia" ("A chapter in the history of Xixia"), Izvestiia Imperatorskoi Akademii Nauk (Bulletin of the Imperial Academy of Sciences), 1911, pp. 831-836; "The sutra 'On the rebirth of Maitreya in Tushita Heaven'", the Tangut text was published and a Chinese translation provided by Ivanov, Petrograd, 1916. To these should be added at least two publications by Ivanov in the German language.

(62) See Kotvich, "Examples of paper notes of the Yuan dynasty in China", Izvestiia Imperatorskogo Geograficheskogo obshchestva (Bulletin of the Imperial Geographical Society), vol. XLV, 1909, pp. 474-477; see also his characterization of the monuments of Mongolian writing from Khara-khoto in Mongoliia i Amdo i mertvyi gorod Khara-khoto, pp. 561-565.

(63) See his characterization of the Persian text "Seven sages", in Mongoliia i Amdo i mertuyi gorod Khara-khoto, p. 566 and his description of the monuments of Buddhist sculpture and icons in the same book.

(64) Men'shikov, Opisanie kitaiskoi chasti kollektsii iz Khara-khoto (Description of the Chinese manuscripts from Khara-khoto).

(65) N. A. Nevskii, Tangutskaia filologiia: Issledovaniia i slovar' v dvykh knigakh (Tangut philology: the analysis and the glossary, 2 volumes), Moscow, 1960. Z. I. Gorbacheva and E. I. Kychanov, Tangutskie rukopisi i ksilografy (Tangut manuscripts and xylographs), Moscow, 1963.

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