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Seminar explores social changes of Hexi Corridor

Author  :  ZHU YI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-10-02

Scholars shed light on social changes in the Hexi Corridor during the Ming and Qing dynasties at a seminar in Wuwei, Gansu Province, on Sept. 11 and 12. Photo: Zhao Heyu/CSST

WUWEI—A seminar on social changes in the Hexi Corridor during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties was held in Wuwei, Gansu Province, on Sept. 11 and 12. Scholars exchanged views on ecological environment evolution, migration, and economic development in the Hexi Corridor in the Ming and Qing era.

Cultural accumulation

The Hexi Corridor was located in the golden section of the ancient Silk Road. With a unique geographical location, it was a pass opened to the outside world. It saw East-West cultural exchange, which has accumulated into a magnificent historical civilization.

According to Zhao Xiaojie, secretary of the Party Committee of the Institute of History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, among the economic and cultural corridors in Chinese history, the Hexi Corridor occupies a significant position due to its unique historical endowment. Since early ancient times, industrious ancestors have lived and multiplied in Wuwei, yielding unique Majiayao culture, Qijia culture, and Shajing culture. During the Western Han Dynasty (202 BCE–8), the opening of the Hexi Corridor and the establishment of four prefectures in Hexi solidified the central court’s governance of border ethnic minority areas and maintained the long-term unity of the country.

Zhao continued that for a long time, the Hexi Corridor has been a hub of economic and cultural exchange between China and other countries, and a center for exchanges and fusion of various ethnic groups in northwestern China. Different types of cultures illuminated and complemented each other here.

Wuwei’s profound and unique cultural accumulation has become a deep memory of the Chinese nation, spanning from the four prefectures of Hexi in the Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220) to the ancient capital of the five Liang regimes [Qianliang, Houliang, Nanliang, Beiliang, and Daliang] between early 4th century and early 7th century, from the prosperous Liangzhou [an ancient name of Wuwei] in the Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) dynasties to the secondary capital of the Western Xia regime in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), Zhao said.

Liu Peng, secretary of the Wuwei Municipal Party Committee, said that Wuwei is a city with both historical length and cultural depth. Its dense Liangzhou culture holds a position in Chinese history, contributing to the cultural diversity and the formation of a unified multi-ethnic country.

Environmental transition

Located in the agricultural and pastoral transition zone of northwestern China, the Hexi Corridor has a relatively fragile ecosystem. The changes in its ecological environment have attracted wide academic attention.

Gao Shouxian, a professor at the Party School of the Beijing Municipal Committee of CPC (the Beijing Administration Institute), said that according to literature and archaeological discoveries, the Hexi Corridor once boasted a very beautiful natural environment, with many rivers and lakes, oases, and terrain densely covered by trees and bushes. During the Han and Tang dynasties, the Hexi Corridor saw large-scale agricultural development, though in the following hundreds of years, the agricultural economy was significantly degraded. From the early Ming Dynasty, under the combined impact of climate change and human factors, the Hexi Corridor tended to expedite its desertification process. The water source of the Hexi Corridor mainly comes from the melting snow and ice in the Qilian Mountains, with a relatively fragile ecological environment and weak environmental carrying capacity for human settlement. Therefore, the ecological environment protection of the Qilian Mountains is a realistic need and urgent task of Gansu’s sustainable development and even that of the country.

Li Bingcheng, a professor with Northwest Normal University, illustrated the logical relationship between the growth and decline of people and nature in the Hexi Corridor by analyzing the land development and desertification process of oases in the lower reaches of the Shiyang River in the Hexi Corridor during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The rapid population growth brought about blind reclamation. This inevitably led to the activation of potential desertification factors and the loss of available land resources, which in turn increased the population load of existing arable land and caused larger-scale blind cultivation, forming a vicious cycle.

Ways forward

In 1247, the “Liangzhou Talk” was held in the White Pagoda Temple in today’s Wuwei between Prince Godan of Mongolia and local Tibetan religious leader Sakya Pandita. After the talk, a consensus was reached on officially incorporating Tibet into Mongolia. Zhao Xianhai, a research fellow from the Institute of History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that the “Liangzhou Talk” vividly exemplifies the formation of the Chinese nation’s pluralistic unity. Throughout the history of the Hexi Corridor, it has always been a gathering place for exchanges between ethnic groups and a shield to safeguard national security.

At present, the overall research level on the Hexi Corridor is not high, and its research depth and breadth need to be expanded. The field has such universal shortcomings as insufficient data mining, narrow vision, and “fragmented” research results. Greater efforts should be put into the integrated research of Dunhuang studies, bamboo and wooden slips, borderland studies, historiography, geography, ethnology, and the history of China-foreign relations.

According to Tian Shu, vice president of Northwest Normal University, in order to strengthen the historical research of the Hexi Corridor and comprehensively comb the historical evolution of the region, Northwest Normal University, aligning with other domestic academic teams, plans to compile a comprehensive and systematic study titled The General History of the Hexi Corridor that centers on the four major lines of national security, ethnic integration, mutual learning among civilizations, and environmental protection.

Editor: Yu Hui

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