Thanks not only to the further work of historians studying the areas such as China, where Sogdian traders had a considerable, cultural impact but also to the continuing efforts of scholars such as Nicholas Sims-Williams and Yoshida Yutaka working with surviving Sogdian materials, these so far unsung heroes of early Asian economic life have at last found their due in the work under review, a monograph, which, while not seeking to compile all the information we now have about the Sogdians in history, still provides an account of their trading networks that will become essential reading for future researchers in any number of different fields.
The ample bibliography, however, attests that this synthesis has not lightly been achieved: sources and studies in a good number of Asian and European languages only go to show how far the ramifications of the Sogdian trading network can take the researcher. Not that the author finds it to be a network of any great antiquity: the fact that the Sogdian Letters, first securely dated by W. B. Henning in this Bulletin in 1948, appear to refer to Changan by the name of its predecessor, Xianyang, only shows in his view that, like the name for China itself, later visitors picked up terminology first put into non-Chinese currency by the Xiongnu some five centuries earlier and, one might add, in the case of the word “China” we do have evidence from, the intervening period, but for Xianyang in the guise of Khumdan (the name for Changan in the Letters) there is no other evidence at all for the entire half millennium. There is, however, evidence for Sogdian activity older than the Letters, though confusingly enough it points to maritime trade through India and South East Asia, which brought the early Sogdian Buddhist missionary Kang Senghui to China — in the third century C.E. Since that maritime trade seems to have involved the export of Inner Asian horses, it is mildly surprising that the author did not call upon R. Chakravarti’s note in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 422, 1999, pp. 194-211, which helpfully locates the early evidence within current research into its later manifestations.
Such omissions would, however, seem to be rare, with the balance of this section giving a particularly thorough treatment of the context of the Letters, before the story of Sogdian activity before, during and after the early Turkish empires is described in further parts of the monograph. The final part covers the break-up of the network towards the end, of the first millennium C.E., as the division of Inner Asia; between an Islamic and non-Islamic zone for a while caused a reorientation of the Sogdian in each half towards the locally dominant culture. The pattern of assimilation would seem to be of a piece with that observed by Chinese scholars of the Indo-Scythians (Yuezhi), whom Chinese genealogical sources show to have been absorbed into their surroundings at the same point, to judge from Zhongguo wenhua yanjiu jikan 3, 1986, pp. 144-6 In the longer term, however, the old trading links may well have been reasserted within a new cultural situation: at any rate, some of the Muslim merchant of Zaytun on the thirteenth-century China coast hailed originally not from such likely places as Basra, but from Bukhara, once an important Sogdian base. Indeed, the author makes a good point on p. 9 in suggesting that a persistent cosmopolitanism in the region encouraged the appearance in what is now to us a rather remote part of the world of major thinkers, such as Avicenna, to mention but the best known of them.
And though his aside is some what unusual in a work primarily devoted to the description of long-term economic structures, one might well think that the most lasting contributions made by the Sogdians lay not in economic but in religious life even if the two are, of course, always closely intertwined. The importance of the network studied to the Spread of Nestorianism and Manichaeism is already well known, but the successes of those faiths turned out to be relatively ephemeral. By contrast, it is not just that at the height of the international age of Buddhism many great figures in East Asia turn out to be at least partly Sogdian not only Amoghavajra, as noted here, but also Fazang (643-712) and, if the author is right, contra A. Forte, in suspecting that claims to Parthian descent via An Shigao, founding father of Chinese Buddhism, cannot always be taken at face value, then maybe Jiang (549.623) too. Yet more astonishingly, a purely Sogdian-monk from Kushaniyya took up residence in the late seventh century at Sizhou, a nodal point on the Chinese transport system, and became the posthumous focus of a cult that in its heyday achieved international fame in East-Asia, surviving even the inundation of the cult centre in the seventeenth century, so that the “Great Sage of Sizhou” was certainly still worshipped in the twentieth century and may, for all I know, still be worshipped today.
So this study, equipped as it is with four separate indexes and some very helpful maps, is bound to be widely welcomed: At a time when China, for one, is achieving unprecedented levels of integration into world trade, it is worth remembering that international trade in the past often brought with it great cultural enrichment, and that the type of xenophobia touched upon in the final part of the work was no more than the temporary by-product of the dislocation of a transcontinental trading network of remarkable resilience and sophistication. Today we should certainly remember the Sogdian, and support all those who seek to reveal their achievements in the way that the volume under review has done.