Nestorius was a fifth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, deposed and driven into exile for having preached heretical Christology, reportedly maintaining (though Nestorius himself denied it) that the Logos lived in the person of Jesus, who would thus be the bearer of God, and not the man-God, the orthodox position, two natures in one substance. Surprisingly, the decision to anathematize Nestorius turned out to have interesting consequences in Central Asian history, and perceptions of Central Asia in medieval Europe.
The Persian church had been autonomous from 410, possessing its own Patriarch, independant of the authority of the Western churches, and in 486 made a decision to uphold Nestorius’s teachings, in part to distinguish themselves from the West and reduce the chance that Persian Christians would gravitate to Antioch and Constantinople; non-Nestorians were driven from the country (though the Armenians condemned the move). Symmetrically, Nestorians fled Western areas to Persia, just as three hundred years earlier Christians had fled the then-pagan Roman Empire to take refuge with the Persian church.
By the middle of the sixth century, Nestorians churches had sprung up all over Asia, from Sri Lanka to Mongolia and from Egypt to China, and everywhere in between, including Turkestan, India, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Like many missionaries confronted with illiterate societies, the Nestorians were led to create writing systems for the languages of peoples they wished to convert, such as Mongolian, Uighur, Sogdian, and Manchu, all based on Syriac.
Daily Archives: 26 June 2004
Travel rations in the Gobi were somewhat less varied in the 1930s than they are now.
We started by drinking a bowl of “brick tea.” This was tea made by hammering off a chunk from a brick measuring about 6″ x 10″ x 1″ that weighed about two and a half pounds and was formed by compressing tea leaves into the least possible space in order to reduce the cost of transportation. Such bricks were widely used as a medium of exchange in the barter trade between Chinese and Mongols.
The chunk broken off from the brick is pounded, usually in a mortar, to loosen the compacted elements. Most teas are steeped in hot water according to the taste of the drinker. Brick tea is made by boiling. Mongols and Tibetans drink tea au lait, with added milk, butter, and salt. Chinese prefer it straight.
We had ours Chinese style. At first sip the tea tasted a bit like water in which a strip of rubber has been boiled. It improved only slightly with more sips.
Next we had a bowl of roasted or parched millet. Although millet is generally considered to be poor people’s fare, especially in contrast to high-status rice and wheat, it seemed to me not a whit inferior in taste to many of our cereals that are well known to be the breakfasts of champions…. Camel drivers generally eat the millet dry, washing it down with copious bowls of brick tea. Others prefer the somewhat more efficient technique of pouring handfuls of the cereal into their tea and then slurping down the combination. This was my preference, too …
We also had a small taste of two other cereals. One was a kind of oatmeal, not the flaky sort such as graces American breakfasts, but rather a finely ground flour, also roasted or parched. We ate it in a bowl of hot tea, making a sort of porridge, with the optional addition of a bit of sugar. I found it quite tasty. The other cereal, also a parched flour, tasted like bran. We sampled a few spoonfuls in our tea, again with a bit of sugar. It too seemed to me quite palatable.
John DeFrancis trekked across the Gobi in 1935, mostly on foot.
The term “Gobi” requires a bit of explanation. It is a Mongolian word with the literal meaning “gravel desert.” The term “Gobi Desert” is therefore redundant, but it is now firmly established in general usage, where it is applied to an area extending seven hundred miles from north to south and twelve hundred miles from east to west. This is centered along the border running east and west between Inner and Outer Mongolia.
But this huge expanse, the central portion of which is often designated “the Great Gobi,” actually consists of stretches comprising different kinds of terrain–sandy belts, barren rocky hills, patches of grassland, and gravel-covered soil. It is only the last of these, the gravel-covered stretches, that Mongols refer to as “gobi.” Foreign travelers in the area soon learn to use the term in both the restricted sense of the Mongols and the looser sense established by popular usage.
The distinction, which is sometimes expressed in writing by capitalization versus small letters, is important if we are to make sense out of a statement like “After crossing this sandy stretch we’ll have a belt of gobi before running into more sand.” When hoofing it through the desert one can hardly fail to be impressed by the differences in terrain and by the utility of the restricted Mongol usage of the term. And after slogging through a stretch of sandy soil it is a relief for one’s legs to come to a belt of good firm gobi.
We developed a refined feeling–literally a feeling–for the differences in the ground under our feet. Sight was not a completely reliable guide. Except for differences in color, one stretch of gobi often looked much like another. But our feet felt a difference.
Some stretches of gobi consisted of a thick layer of hard-packed gravel that held up well under our weight and made walking a pleasure. Others consisted of a thin covering of gravel on a friable crust that gave way to softer earth underneath. Walking over such terrain was almost as tiring as walking on sand.
There were differences between sandy areas too. Wind-blown sand that covered the ground with drifts and dunes was so tiring to walk on that we often made long detours to avoid such areas. Sand in dry riverbeds was occasionally somewhat compacted and so provided better footing.
Zhou said that there were actually five kinds of gobi–white, black, yellow, red, and blue. These colors refer to the kinds of gravel that covered the ground. The sand, soil, and rocks in their various hues added still more color to terrain that not only varied from place to place but changed shape before our eyes, sometimes because we saw the wind literally remaking the face of the land, always because in our progression we saw things from constantly changing perspectives. We found no little pleasure, or at least fascination, in the desert kaleidoscope.