Union Académique Internationale

A few questions to Sam Lieu, director of project 67: China and the Mediterranean World

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What is the purpose of the project?

In the world today, characterized by globalization in which China is becoming an increasingly important role-player on the global scene, understanding the historical dynamics of Sino-European contacts and interaction is more significant than ever. To enhance our understanding in this regard is the fundamental purpose of the Union Académique Internationale Project “China and the Medi¬terranean World: Archaeological Sources and Written Documents". A fundamental purpose of the project is to sponsor a series of conferences and monographs which address the theme of Eurasian contacts, particularly through the overland ‘Silk Road’, from the conquest of Central Asia by Alexander the Great to the fall of the Mongol Empire as a Eurasian power.
The project was adopted as Project 67 at the General Assembly in Barcelona in 2004. The project is currently supported by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. It was also supported at its foundation by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Since 2014 the coordinators of the project are Professor Samuel N.C. Lieu (Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and President of the UAI 2017-2021) and Prof. Torbjörn Lodén (Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities).

Why is it original and innovative?

The study of the history Eurasia has long been international, inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional. Therefore it is an ideal area for collaborative research at many levels. The subject is also strongly represented among the regular Delegates to the UAI, forming an obvious core of senior scholars who would direct the project. Research in documents in a large number of ancient and medieval languages is central to the project and team-work is essential in assuring the highest academic standards are maintained in the publication of newly discovered and / or hitherto understudied texts and inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations. The project has embraced the need to make its research results available online, especially through its UAI project website. This has made the project potentially one of the more visible group projects in the field of Eurasian studies.

Why is this a long term project?

The amount of textual and archaeological evidence on East-West contacts through the ‘Silk Road’ has grown exponentially in the last few decades and the task of producing authoritative text corpuses and catalogues of coins and inscriptions is obviously of long durée. The first two sections of the project to appear in print are focused on literary sources on contact:

(1) European (Classical and Medieval) texts on China. Some of this work has already been done by previous scholars especially by the French scholar George Coedès in his work Textes d’auteurs grecs et latins relatifs a l’Extreme-Orient depuis le IV siecle av. J.-C. jusqu’au XIVe siècle (Hanoi and Paris, 1910). The re-translation of these important Classical texts into English was realized in 2009 together with a completely up-to-date commentary (2012).

(2) Chinese texts on the Ancient Mediterranean World: The first stage, comprising translations of texts up to the end of the Tang period, has been completed by Mr. Yu Taishan of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and this is now available both online and as a research monograph of the Romanian Academy. (3) The third task of the project is to examine how literary themes and motifs could travel the whole length of the Silk Road. A good example of this is the major online publication: P. Zieme FBA et al. ‘Aesop’s fables in Central Asia. A contribution to project 'China and the Mediterranean world' of the Union Académique Internationale’

(4) The fourth task of the project is to produce on-line a corpus of the major inscriptions (especially in Greek, Middle Iranian, Aramaic and Chinese) recovered from key sites along the Silk Road. The research archives of this major part of the project are now available through the UAI Project website:

  1. Hellenism in the East (Greek, Aramaic, Sanscrit and Middle Iranian)
  2. Fontes Historiae Palmyrenae (Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew)
  3. Inscriptiones Palmyrenae selectae ad commercium pertinentes (Greek and Aramaic)
  4. The Tariff of Palmyra (Greek and Aramaic)
  5. The Xi’an (Nestorian) Monument (Chinese and Syriac) These archives provide researchers with the full text of the inscriptions in their original languages and in English translation and many are also provided with word-indices.

(5) The diffusion of religions of Middle Eastern along to Silk Road (especially ‘Nestorian’ Christianity and of Manichaeism). The textual evidence for the diffusion of these religions is very substantial and deserves special attention. The first dedicated volume of the new eponymous series is devoted to the history and literary and epigraphic remains of the Church of the East in Central Asia and China.

Who are you collaborating with?

The UAI has sponsored a number of projects which have a Eurasian dimension and the researchers in these projects are obvious sources for future collaboration: UAI Proj. 26 Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum UAI Proj. 27 Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum UAI Proj. 78 Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum UAI Proj. 87 Tabula Imperii Byzantini

What are the latest news about the project (discoveries, conferences, publications)?


A very important part of the project is the sponsorship of major international conferences. A symposium was held in Kazakhstan shortly after the establishment of the project (in 2007), symposium attended by participants of 7 countries (Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Denmark and United Kingdom), but, by lack of financial possibilities the proceedings were not published. More importantly, a major international symposium with scholars specially selected to represent key areas of textual and language research was held in Stockholm (The Silk Road and Cultural Exchange between China and Europe, 3-5 October 2018) and generously sponsored by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities in association with the UAI. Scholars from more than 20 nations with a strong representation of Fellows from national academies were able to take part and the proceedings of this landmark conference will be published as a volume of the Proceedings of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities in 2022.

Major publications

  1. G. COEDÈS, Texts of Greek and Latin Authors on the Far East, From the 4th C. B.C.E. to the 14th C. C.E., trans. John SHELDON, Brepols: Turnhout, 2009

  2. John SHELDON, Commentary on George Coedès' Texts of Greek and Latin Authors on the Far East, Brepols: Turnhout: 2012, publ. early 2013

  3. YU TAISHAN (CASS) China and the Mediterranean World in Ancient Times, edited by Victor Spinei, Florilegium magistrorum historiae archaeologiaeque Aitniquitatis et Medii Aevi XIV, Romanian Academy – Institute of Archaeology of Laşi, 2014 Abridged online version (= Sino-Platonic Papers 242, November 2013)

  4. J. MARKLEY, Peace and Peril: Sima Qian's Portrayal of Han-Xiongnu Relations, Silk Road Studies (SRS) 13, Brepols: Turnhout, 2016

  5. S.N.C. LIEU and G. MIKKELSEN (eds.), Between Rome and China: History, Religions and Material Culture of the Silk Road, Silk Road Studies (SRS) 18, Brepols: Turnhout, 2016

  6. S.N.C. LIEU and G. Thompson (eds.) The Church of the East in Central Asia and China = China and and the Medierranean World 1, Brepols: Turnhout, 2020

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