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Yang Liangyao’s Mission to the Abbasids in 785

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2016-2017 School of Chinese Seminar 香港大學中文學院講座

Yang Liangyao’s Mission to the Abbasids in 785

蕭婷教授 Professor Angela Schottenhammer
薩爾茨堡大學The University of Salzburg

Date & Time: 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Monday, July 17, 2017
Venue: Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU
Language: Putonghua


This presentation introduces the information provided in a tomb stele (shendao zhi bei 神道之碑) of a Chinese eunuch, a certain Yang Liangyao 楊良瑤 (736–806), that will be comparatively analysed against the background of the political landscape under the Chinese Emperor Dezong 德宗 (Li Gua 李適; 742–805; r. 780–805), and more specifically against the backdrop of the court’s politics in the face of Tibetan aggression. The stele inscription records the biography of Yang and claims that he was sent as an envoy to the Abbasids (Heiyi dashi 黑衣大食; lit. “Black-dressed Tajik”, i.e. the Arabs) by Emperor Dezong in 785. It seems that the mission was intended to ask the Arabs for military support against the Tibetans. The talk intends to frame Yang’s mission within a broader context and analyse the factors that may have prompted this trip. In particular, I want to address the question of why such an important diplomatic mission is neither mentioned in any other sources, and the question of why it has never been brought up in academic discourse. Although a clear indication that this trip even took place at all is absent in both Chinese and Middle Eastern historiography, there is no plausible reason to automatically rule out the possibility that the mission was carried out, or to assume that somebody might have faked such a story on an epigraphic document like this tomb stele. Historical circumstances and a comparison with information provided in other sources rather suggest that the mission was sent, perhaps even successfully, and there are also quite a few political reasons as to why the mission and information pertaining to Yang Liangyao himself were not included in the official accounts. The article will argue that particular historical circumstances suggest that his mission was very plausible; and that the decision to send him to the Abbasid caliphate to ask the Arabs for assistance in pushing back the Tibetans was at least in line with Emperor Dezong’s foreign policy strategy.


Angela Schottenhammer is professor of Non-European and World History at the University of Salzburg, Austria, and research director and adjunct professor (Chinese History) at the Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC), History Department, McGill University, Canada. She obtained her Ph.D. in 1993 from Würzburg University, Germany, and her Habilitation degree 2000 from Munich University. She is the editor of the Online journal Crossroads – Studies on the History of Exchange Relations in the East Asian World and of the book series East Asian Maritime History and has widely published on traditional Chinese history and culture as well as China’s manifold historical exchange relations and her integration into the Eurasian and global context.
Poster [1]
http://www.hku.hk/chinese [2]

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[1] Poster: http://web.chinese.hku.hk/poster/20170717.pdf

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