A New Edition of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society is now available

The latest edition of the Journal is now available online with Cambridge University Press. All Fellows of the Society can access the articles using their login on our website. For those not yet Fellows, some of the articles are available via open access but we thought we might tempt you to join by sharing the abstracts of all the articles and thus showing the range of scholarship within the Journal.

The articles are:

From Yazd to Bombay—Ardeshir Mehrabān ‘Irani’ and the rise of Persia’s nineteenth-century Zoroastrian merchants by Nasser Mohajer and Kaveh Yazdani

This article begins by surveying the commercial structure of nineteenth-century Yazd, centring on the economic activities of its Zoroastrian inhabitants. Next, we examine the house of Mehrabān, arguing that they were intermediate figures in Persia’s transition from a pre-capitalist to an inchoate capitalist mode of production. Throughout the mid- to late nineteenth century, the Mehrabāns were significant socio-economic players and precursors for later generations of prosperous, worldly Iranian Zoroastrians. Ardeshir in particular epitomised the gradual emergence of an Iranian bourgeoisie in the urban centres of Persia, specifically Yazd. Concurrently, the rise of prominent members of the Mehrabān family was intimately related to their education, ‘cultural capital’, socio-economic connections, and business ventures in Bombay as well as their constantly developing political clout in Persia and India.

Full length portraits of the Parsi Master-Shipbuilders, Jamsetjee Bomanjj (1756-1821) and his son, Nourojee Jamsetjee (1774-1860) (RAS Collections Cat. Nos. 01.007 and 01.008)

Processes of the circulation of Chinese wares in the Middle East during the Abbasid-Chinese ceramic exchange, eighth–tenth centuries CE by Wen Wen

This article examines the different mechanisms of the circulation of Chinese ceramics in the Middle East during the Abbasid-Chinese ceramic exchange during the eighth–tenth centuries CE. Although trade has been used conveniently to denote the circulation of Chinese wares in the Abbasid Caliphate, it is not the only mechanism that existed. There were also other possible processes of circulation, such as ceramics sent as tributes, diplomatic gifts, and samples, and secondary distribution through looting and pilgrimage. Not all Chinese wares shipped to the Middle East were luxury goods. Different types of Chinese wares had different functions and commercial and aesthetic values in the Middle East. It is an oversimplification to describe the circulation of Chinese wares in the Middle East as merely the result of the luxury goods trade.


Poetry as history: Maulana Muhammad Anwar Shopiani and the Ahl-i Hadith Movement in Kashmir by Suvaid Yaseen (This article is available via open access.)

The Ahl-i Hadith in South Asia has largely been studied as a textualist, puritan movement as a result of its exclusive emphasis on the Quran, Hadith sources, and connection with a variety of radical political and armed groups. In contrast, poetry has largely been associated with Sufi movements. This article questions this distinction and makes a historiographical intervention by examining the poetry of Maulana Muhammad Anwar Shopiani (d. 1940) in the Kashmiri, Persian, and Urdu languages. Through a close analysis of Shopiani’s biography and poetry, the article complicates the hitherto available picture of the Ahl-i Hadith movement which Shopiani helped to take root in Kashmir. Doing so draws attention to the movement’s novel literary aspect that engages with regional Sufi and sympathetic Hanafi thinking as well as with the broader Persianate literary traditions and transregional currents of revivalist thinking on the basis of the principle of taḥqīq, research. Even as Shopiani’s message remains committed to a ‘factual’ iteration based upon Quran and Hadith sources, it is the concept of love, both in its spiritual and worldly manifestations, that emerges as central to his thought. It is through this that the paradox between the actual historical distance from Prophet Muhammad’s time and the Ahl-i Hadith’s ideological desire to revive that time by a literal enactment of the sunnah is resolved. In doing so, the article makes a methodological case for employing poetry as a source for writing an intellectual history from below which examines Islamic movements on their own terms.


Contending for the cosmos: a Zoroastrian poet’s mysterious rival by Arish Dastur (This article is available via open access.)

The ancient Zoroastrian hymn of worship dedicated to the frauuaṣ̌i-s (affirmative choices) of righteous mortals and divinities refers to an important discourse that takes place between an unnamed Zoroastrian poet-sage and his mysterious rival, named Gaōtəma. The figure of Gaōtəma has intrigued Avestan scholars through the years, but the significance and the implications of Gaōtəma’s identity, and of his presence in the hymn, has to date not been seriously studied. This article first examines the context in which Gaōtəma is presented in the hymn. Building upon this, it then evaluates four potential identities for Gaōtəma: Avestan, Turanian, Buddhist, and Vedic. Conducting a multidisciplinary and comparative assessment, the article eventually argues in favour of a Vedic identity for Gaōtəma, specifically that of a poet-sage who was a proponent of the Rig Vedic divinity Indra. This investigation into Gaōtəma’s identity concomitantly provides important perspectives on certain aspects of the Zoroastrian religion, and often in a comparative context.


The wrath of God or national hero? Nader Shah in European and Iranian historiography by Rudi Matthee (This article is available via open access.)

This article examines the way in which Iran’s eighteenth-century ruler Nader Shah was portrayed in contemporary Europe as well as in Iran, and how the resulting image—half national hero, half ruthless warlord—has resonated until today. In an age short on ‘great’ leaders, Nader spoke to the imagination like no other contemporary ruler, Western or Asian. Nader’s subsequent record can be read as a palimpsest, a layered series of images of multiple world conquerors, from Alexander to Napoleon. The latter, who shared Nader’s humble background and evoked a similar ambivalence, represented the closest analogue, turning him into the European Nader Shah. In the modern West, Nader no longer speaks to the imagination. Modern Iranians, by contrast, have come to see him as the Iranian Napoleon. While still ambivalent about him, they admire him as the ruler who regenerated the nation and ended foreign occupation, yet his undeniable cruelty and imperialism make him an awkward national hero.


Translating and transplanting revolution: the circulation of discourses on the American Revolution between China and Japan by Fei Chen

The American Revolution, as recent studies have shown, was appropriated by Chinese revolutionaries to use in their anti-Manchu propaganda in the early twentieth century. Few scholars have fully recognised Japan’s important role in mediating Chinese revolutionaries’ understanding of the American Revolution. This article aims to bridge the gaps in existing scholarship through a close reading of Chinese and Japanese writings on the American Revolution in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I will show that Chinese and Japanese elites’ understanding of the American Revolution was structured by the changing power relations between China, Japan, and the West. Before Chinese and Japanese elites internalised the ideology of Western cultural superiority, the former inspired the latter to see the American Revolution through a Confucian lens. After the ideology of Western cultural superiority became entrenched in Japan, Japanese elites reinterpreted the American Revolution through the lens of Western ideas of liberty, civil rights, and popular sovereignty. Their new interpretation, in turn, inspired Chinese revolutionaries in Meiji Japan to view the American Revolution as a model for their anti-Manchu revolution in the 1900s when the ideology of Western cultural superiority started to take root in China.


Chinese monks, dragons, and reincarnation: the hand of Juan Cobo in the cultural translation of Mingxin baojian 明心寶鑑 (Precious Mirror for Enlightening the Mind), circa 1590 by Rachel Junlei Zhang and Juan Pablo Gil-Osle (This article is available via open access.)

This article examines the relationship between the manuscript translation of Mingxin baojian 明心寶鑑 (Precious Mirror for Enlightening the Mind) (circa 1590) by Juan Cobo (circa 1546–1592) and the Fujian book market in China. It explores the cultural implications of Cobo’s translation by focusing on the commentary he provided in the marginalia of the manuscript. By investigating Cobo’s translation and marginalia notes on three Chinese concepts—Chinese monks, dragons, and reincarnation—this article highlights the complex cultural issues present when the early Spanish missionaries in the Philippines negotiated with Chinese culture in their writings and publications.

A votive door god: a military figure, with flaming pearls. At the base is a dragon. One of 10 Chinese woodblock prints of door gods donated by Brian Houghton Hodgson (RAS Cat. 043.001)

Materials and techniques used for Portrait of Yi Bok Shin oiled paper sketches: scientific analysis and practical application by Doo Hee Chung

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897), many silk portraits were made of kings and other public officials. Most of these are now lost. Silk canvases are partially transparent, which allows pigments on both sides of the canvas to be seen. Before working with a silk canvas, artists would create several drafts of their portraits on paper, which was made translucent through the application of oil. In this research, a set of three paper drafts for a portrait from the eighteenth century was analysed via X-ray fluorescence spectroscopic data and microscopic imagery to identify the type of paper and pigments used. Using this analysis, along with surviving historic records, comparisons to other historic portraits, and an artistic analysis of the line and colouring techniques, new insights into the process of making these portraits are presented. Novel features of the three sketches are identified. Furthermore, the step-by-step process used to create these sketches is discussed and illustrated using a reproduction that employs traditional techniques and materials.


Bāṇa, Vyomkesh Shastri, Stella Kramrisch: authority and authorship in Hazariprasad Dwivedi’s Bāṇabhaṭṭa kī ‘ātmakathā’ by Gregory Goulding

Hazariprasad Dwivedi’s 1946 novel, Bāṇabhaṭṭa kī ‘ātmakathā’, has long been considered one of the most prominent historical novels in modern Hindi literature, canonised in literary history for its progressive view of the past and for elaborating an autobiographical voice for the seventh-century Sanskrit poet, Bāṇa. However, the many layers of fictive authorship that enfold the main narrative of the text are rarely taken into account. Examination of the metatextual materials of this text reveal, however, that Bāṇabhaṭṭa kī ‘ātmakathā’ is meant to be read in terms of the problem of its authorship, in such a way as to problematise the autobiographical voice that it presents to the reader. In this article, I analyse this material and argue that the actual author of the text, described as an Austrian woman named Catherine, is most likely inspired by Stella Kramrisch. Further analysis shows this novel to be deeply shaped by the intellectual milieu of interwar Bengal, where Dwivedi was a teacher at Shantiniketan and engaged in commenting upon the complex intellectual traditions that existed in part of that world.


Tokugawa Yoshimune and his healthcare projects by Regina Huebner

In Japanese scholarship, the notion of public health is closely associated with modernisation and the adoption of Western medicine in the nineteenth century, which influenced the centralisation of medical affairs and the establishment of hospitals. This article aims to challenge this assumption. A closer look at Japan’s medical history shows that government institutions caring for the sick and destitute existed before the introduction of Western concepts of medicine. Furthermore, Japan had other ways of providing welfare, in addition to establishing hospitals. These included government-sponsored medical manuals designed to deliver healthcare via published texts, an aspect of welfare that has been neglected in the history of public health in Japan. This article fills this gap by illuminating and grasping lesser-known strands of healthcare delivery to enhance our understanding of the relationship between the state and medicine in early modern Japan. In particular, it examines welfare initiatives implemented by the tenth shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (r. 1716–1745), a prominent and well-researched figure in the history of Tokugawa Japan and a key player who laid the foundations of welfare in this era.


Tapeh Tyalineh: a proto-Elamite administrative institution on the Great Khorasan Road, Kermanshah, Western Iran by Shokouh Khosravi, Sajjad Albaiga, Moostafa Doosti, Holly Pittman, Naser Aminikhah and Ali Khavani

The Mahidasht region is a vital cultural sphere on the Great Khorasan Road that has provided substantial evidence for administrative activity, which is considered to be an indicator of economic and political complexity in late prehistoric societies. This article discusses a corpus of bureaucratic artefacts from the site of Tapeh Tyalineh in the Kouzaran plain in the north of Mahidasht, including 52 jar sealings and 12 door sealings. The artefacts were found during the recent surveys conducted by two of the authors at Tapeh Tyalineh after reports were received of illegal diggings at the site by villagers who had used its soil to plaster the roofs of their houses and to level and cultivate their farmland. Tyalineh seal impressions are studied here in terms of style and iconography in order to date the corpus of administrative artefacts. Furthermore, applying a functionalist approach, the artefacts are examined to answer questions regarding the nature and function of the site. The results suggest that the corpus dates to the proto-Elamite era. The significance of the door sealings, as the most important artefact type from Tyalineh, is that at least a part of the site was devoted to administrative affairs, which probably involved holding certain commodities in rather small closed-mouthed jars and then securing them behind locked doors. The administrative technology not only at Tyalineh but also at Chogha Maran and Dehsavar in Mahidasht and Godin VI:1 in Kangavar attest to well-established Early Bronze Age administrative and economic institutions along the Khorasan Road in the Central Zagros, which were involved in interregional commercial interactions.

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In other news: on Thursday 11 April, 6.30 pm, we welcome Dr James White who will lecture on Community Formation and the Edges of Empire: Panegyric Poetry in Sanʿaʾ and Isfahan, 1670-1690. Dr White is Departmental Lecturer of Persian Studies at Oxford University whose research focuses on multilingualism and the social uses of poetry in the Middle East and South Asia during the late medieval and early modern periods. The is a hybrid event and if you wish to attend online please contact Matty Bradly (mb@royalasiaticsociety.org).