Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Se-gan Foo

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SE-GAN FOO, the capital of the province of Shen-se in north-western China, is situated in 34° 17′ N. lat. and 108° 58′ E. long. Like most Chinese cities, Se-gan Foo has repeatedly changed its name during its history, which dates back to the time of Che Hwang-te (246210 b.c.), the first universal emperor, whose name will be ever notorious as that of the monarch who built the Great Wall, burnt the books, and established his capital at Kwan-chung, the site of the modern Se-gan Foo. Under the succeeding Han dynasty (206 b.c.25 a.d.) this city was called Wei-nan and Nuy-she; under the Eastern Han (25-221 a.d.) it was known as Yung Chow; under the T’ang (618907) as Kwan-nuy; under the Sung (9601127) as Yung-hing; under the Yuen and Ming (12601644) as Gan-se; and under the present dynasty as Se-gan. During the Ts’in, Han, and T‘ang dynasties it was the capital of the empire, and is at the present time second only to Peking in size, population, and importance. The city, which is a square, measuring 10 Chinese miles each way, is prettily situated on ground rising from the river Wei, and includes within its limits the two district cities of Ch'ang-gan and Hien-ning. Its walls are little inferior in height and massiveness to those of Peking, while its gates are handsomer and better defended than any of which the capital can boast. The population is said to be 1,000,000, of whom 50,000 are Mohammedans. Situated in the basin of the Wei river, along which runs the great road which connects northern China with Central Asia, at a point where the valley opens out on the plains of China, Se-gan Foo occupies a strategical position of great importance, and repeatedly in the annals of the empire has history been made around and within its walls. During the late Mohammedan rebellion it was besieged by the rebels for two years (186870), but owing to the strength of the fortifications it defied the efforts of its assailants. From its eastern side three great roads radiate, one reaching to Shan-se, one to Ho-nan, and one to Hoo-pih; while from it runs in a south-westerly direction the great highway into Sze-chuen. It is thus admirably situated as a trade centre and serves as a depôt for the silk from Che-keang and Sze-chuen, the tea from Hoo-pih and Ho-nan, and the sugar from Sze-chuen destined for the markets of Kan-suh, Turkistan, Hi, and Russia. Marco Polo speaking of Kenjanfu, as the city was then also called, says that it was a place “of great trade and industry. They have great abundance of silk, from which they weave cloths of silk, and gold of divers kinds, and they also manufacture all sorts of equipments for an army. They have every necessary of man’s life very cheap.” Many of the temples and public buildings are very fine, and not a few historical monuments are found within and about the walls. Of these the most notable is a Nestorian tablet,[1] which was accidentally discovered in 1625 in the Ch'ang-gan suburb. The stone slab which bears the inscription is 7 feet high by 3 wide, and at present stands embedded in a brick wall, which forms part of a dilapidated temple.[2] From a Chinese point of view, however, the Pei Lin or “forest of tablets” is a place of even greater interest than the above-mentioned temple. For there are collected tablets of the Han, T’ang, Sung, Yuen, and Ming dynasties, some of which bear historical legends, notably a set of stone tablets having the thirteen classics inscribed upon them, while others are symbolical or pictorial; among these last is a full-sized likeness of Confucius. As might be expected on a site which has played so prominent a part in Chinese history, antiquities are constantly being discovered in the neighbourhood of the city, e.g., rich stores of coins and bronzes, bearing dates ranging from 200 b.c. onwards.

  1. The contents of this Nestorian inscription, which consists of 1780 characters, may be described as follows. (1) An abstract of Christian doctrine of a vague and figurative kind. (2) An account of the arrival of the missionary Olopun (probably a Chinese form of Rabban=Monk), from Tats'in in the year 635, bringing sacred books and images; of the translation of the said books; of the imperial approval of the doctrine and permission to teach it publicly. Then follows a decree of the emperor (T‘ait-sung, a very famous prince), issued in 638, in favour of the new doctrine, and ordering a church to be built in the square of justice and peace (Ining fang) in the capital. The emperor’s portrait was to be placed in this church. After this comes a description of Tats’in, and then some account of the fortunes of the church in China. Kaoutsung (650683, the devout patron also of the Buddhist traveller and doctor, Hwen Ts’ang), it is added, continued to favour the new faith. In the end of the century Buddhism got the upper hand, but under Yuen-tsung (713755) the church recovered its prestige, and Kiho, a new missionary, arrived. Under Tih-tsung (780783) the monument was erected, and this part of the inscription ends with a eulogy of I-sze, a statesman and benefactor of the church. (3) Then follows a recapitulation of the above in octosyllabic verse. The Chinese inscription, which concludes with the date of erection, viz., 781, is followed by a series of short inscriptions in Syriac and the Estrangdo character, containing the date of the erection, the name of the reigning Nestorian patriarch, Mar Hanan Ishua, that of Adam, bishop and pope of China, and those of the clerical staff of the capital. Then follow sixty-seven names of persons in Syriac characters, most of whom are characterized as priests, and sixty-one names of persons in Chinese, all priests but one.
  2. See Yule, Marco Polo, London, 1875; Williamson, Journeys in North China, London, 1870; and S. Wells Williams, The Middle Kingdom, London, 1883.