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The Phoenix Mosque and the Persians of Medieval Hangzhou

Translated by Charles Meville and with Contributions by Alexander Morton, Qing Chen, and Florence Hodous
In the early 1250s, Möngke Khan, grandson and successor of the mighty Mongol emperor, Genghis Khan, sent out his younger brothers Qubilai and Hulegu to consolidate his power. Hulegu was welcomed into Iran while his older brother, Qubilai, continued to erode the power of the Song emperors of southern China. In 1276, he finally forced their submission and peacefully occupied the Song capital, Hangzhou. The city enjoyed a revival as the cultural capital of a united China and was soon filled with traders, adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs, and artisans from throughout the great Mongol Empire—including a prosperous, influential, and seemingly welcome community of Persians. In 1281, one of the Persian settlers, Ala al-Din, built the Phoenix Mosque in the heart of the city where it still stands today. This study of the mosque and the Ju-jing Yuan cemetery, which today is a lake-side public park, casts light on an important and transformative period in Chinese history, and perhaps the most important period in Chinese-Islamic history. The book is published in the Persian Studies Series of the British Institute of Persian Studies (BIPS) edited by Charles Melville.

276 pages | 52 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Culture Studies

History: Asian History

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A most fascinating book. . . .The twenty-one tombstones featured in this book were erected to the memory of real people, all of whom had come from the far quarters of the Mongol Empire to make their fortunes in China. They come alive today in this book, providing readers with a scholarly yet accessible account of how Hangzhou (or Khinsai as the Persians knew it) became a major Islamic center in China, not just of religion or trade but of culture as well. . . .This book is, in the end, not a narrow specialist production, but an opening door into a fascinating culture.

Asian Review of Books

"The Phoenix Mosque in Hangzhou, south China, is one of the most remarkable survivals from the period of Mongol rule in Asia. Built in 1281, it served the mainly Persian Muslims who had come to China from the other end of the Mongol Empire. Some 21 tombstones from that time, with texts inscribed in Arabic and Persian, remain in the mosque, and are a primary historical source of great interest. They are transcribed, translated and commented on in this study, the last work of a great Persian scholar, the late Alexander Morton. George Lane and his colleagues have provided a fine series of chapters which put Morton’s work into its appropriate historical context. The result is a major contribution to our knowledge of the history of the Mongol Empire."

David O. Morgan, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"This long-awaited book by George Lane opens new venues for the study of the mobility, economy, and cultural presence of Persianised individuals (mainly from Central Asia) in medieval China. The focus on Hangzhou and particularly on the still standing Phoenix Mosque of the city serves as a living testimony of the presence of a Muslim-Persian community that helped to integrate large cities of Central China into the networks of the Mongol empire that controlled Eurasia during the 13th and 14th centuries, an interesting and not as well-known subject. The transcriptions and translations by Morton and Hodous included in the appendices add a further layer of interest to the book, bringing to life the epitaphs of these Muslim migrants into China in the Mongol period." 

Bruno de Nicola, Goldsmiths, University of London

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