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Texts and Transformations: Essays in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Victor H. Mair By ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Texts and Transformations:


From the Cave of a Thousand Books

An Appreciation of Victor Mair

Haun Saussy

A story must begin somewhere. To start this one in Ohio or at Harvard would yield too short a run-up; more momentum is needed to stage the leap that has been Victor Mair’s scholarly career.1 Not a leap of faith, incidentally, but a leap or series of flights outside the area that is familiar to China scholars.

Let the story begin, rather, with a day around the year 1000 CE, when (we conjecture) a group of monks under threat of invasion hid their abbey’s library holdings in a cave near Mogao, Dunhuang County, in northwest China. In “a small cave, a little bigger than ten feet” they arranged “countless numbers of white packets… In each packet were ten scrolls. In addition, Buddhist flags embroidered with figures were spread out underneath the white packets.”2 Alongside the carefully prepared bundles of Buddhist scrolls were “mixed bundles” of Sanskrit, Tibetan, Uyghur, Sogdian, Khotanese, Turkish, and Kuchean manuscripts, as