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  • The Hostage An Shigao and His Offspring: An Iranian Family in China
  • Albert Welter (bio)
Antonino Forte . The Hostage An Shigao and His Offspring: An Iranian Family in China. Occasional Papers 6. Kyoto: Italian School of East Asian Studies, 1995. x, 152 pp. Paperback, ISBN 4-900793-08-6.

The Hostage An Shigao and His Offspring concerns the figure of An Shigao, the Parthian crown prince who renounced his throne to become a monk, arriving in A.D. 148 in the Chinese capital of Luoyang, where he became the most important translator of Buddhist texts in the early period of their diffusion in China. It also concerns An Shigao's legacy, but not as this is usually understood. The "legacy" here centers on the accomplishments of An Shigao's descendants in Chinese history through the mid-Tang dynasty. If the volume is to be judged according to the author's stated aim, namely to raise questions without pretending to solve any problems (p. ix), then it is a resounding success. The questions raised are both [End Page 434] large and small, with implications for our overall understanding of Chinese history and for the particulars upon which this understanding is based.

While the implications of this study for Chinese historians and students of Chinese Buddhism are immense, Forte is cautious when assessing the accomplishments of the current monograph. The subject of An Shigao has long been of interest to the author, who first published an article (in Italian) on An Shigao in 1968. Pressed by other scholarly concerns, Forte was unable to return to the subject until recently, when he came across additional records dealing with An Shigao and proceeded at the urging of the Japanese scholar Makita Tairyô, to whom the volume is dedicated. The book itself is a revised and enlarged version of a seminar presentation delivered at the Italian School of East Asian Studies in Kyoto in 1991, and of an abstract version presented in Japanese a few days later at the forty-second meeting of the Bukkyôshi gakkai (Society for the History of Buddhism) held at Bukkyô University in Kyoto. The latter resulted in a published version of the study in the Society's journal (Bukkyôshigaku kenkyû) in 1992, which, because of time constraints, resulted in a shorter, provisional version that the author deemed unsatisfactory. Forte continues to be modest about the state of the current version and states that he feels "somewhat overwhelmed by the complexity of the problems being raised" (p. ix). Readers can only sympathize. Hopefully, however, those who read this volume will begin to adjust their antenna to incorporate the implications of these problems for their own investigations.

The outline of the book's contents may be summarized as follows. The Introduction (pp. 1-12) provides an overview of the three chapters that follow, introducing the main figures, topics, and questions to be addressed, as well as the types of sources to be consulted. Chapter 1 (pp. 13-39) considers evidence regarding An Shigao from literary sources, divided into three groups: biographies, genealogies, and rhyme dictionaries. Chapter 2 (pp. 41-63) deals with epigraphical material, namely the stele inscriptions of three prominent An family members active in the seventh and early eighth centuries. Chapter 3 (pp. 65-90) offers some tentative remarks on the early Buddhist sources on the monk An Shigao and the context in which he operated. The Conclusion (pp. 91-93) raises some additional general considerations resulting from the study. In addition, there are two appendixes on specific matters arising from the study. Appendix A (pp. 95-99) is titled "An Early Eighth Century Edict Ordering the Repatriation of Hostages." Appendix B (pp. 100-107) concerns "The Origin of An Lushan's Family Name An." Also included are a "Genealogical Chart of An Shigao's Family" (p. 109), listing known members from the late second through the eighth centuries, a Bibliography (pp. 111-134), and an Index (pp. 135-152).

The questions addressed in the study are essentially three: (1) the identification of the Iranian prince An Shigao, (2) the role played in Chinese society and [End Page 435] history by the family who claimed An...


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