First, a quick link to draw attention to a document shared with me by a friend in London (thanks Matthew).
It gives a theory about the amazing document hoard at the Mogao caves, suggesting that it was put there to save the documents from Muslim armies that had just seized Khotan.
The hoard contained Turkish Manichean papers that highlighted one of the most forgotten of cultural connections--between Iraq and China.
Manicheism, as far as I know, is the only world religion that ever started in Iraq; and it was from the start particularly popular in Afghanistan and what is now Xinjiang. It was the state religion of the Uyghur Empire in around 740 to 840 AD and allegedly some remnant of its beliefs contributed to Chinese society in much later centuries, even if it did not survive as a religion.
also reached China from Iraq, as commemorated on the Nestorian stele (pictured).
Although it's a book which is all about Iran and the Iranian tradition, Paul Kriwaczek's new book In Search of Zarathustra discusses Manicheism. I like his book very much, but I wish he had touched on the connections with China. Not only is there a religious connection between China and Iraq, but there are cultural connections between Iran and China which I would like to understand better: why both countries for example believe that 'hot' and 'cold' foods should not be eaten in isolation, and why pictures of Hafez on Iranian miniatures bear such close resemblance to pictures of Confucius in the Chinese tradition.
I know that there was a mania for Chinese porcelain under Shah Abbas in medieval Iran, but that doesn't explain the whole story. It can't explain eating habits, for instance...
More on this to come.