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The Karez Concept in Ancient Chinese Sources Myth or Reality?

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The karez (or qanât) is an ancient kind of underground waterworks that can be found still working from Iran to Morocco and, in present-day China, in Xinjiang (mostly in the Turfan Basin). In western countries and in the Middle East, historians generally consider the Iranian world as the core area of karez since the Achaemenid era (550-330 BC). In China, however, the prevailing theory concerning the origins of the karez technology in Xinjiang is that it was developed elsewhere in China's Central Plain and then imported with some minor modifications. This article intends to demonstrate that this was not the case and that the technique was unknown in the western regions at the height of the Han Chinese presence in Xinjiang in the late 8th century. This conclusion is confirmed by examining the historical process of the development of the karez technique as it is known through Qing sources. It started no sooner than the early 19th century and was related to the Qing colonial enterprise in the western regions. Le karez (ou qanât) est un type ancien d'aménagement hydraulique souterrain dont on trouve encore des exemples en activité de l'Iran au Maroc, et, en Chine aujourd'hui, au Xinjiang (principalement dans le bassin de Turfan). Dans les pays occidentaux et au Moyen Orient les historiens considèrent généralement le monde iranien comme la zone centrale des karez depuis l'époque achéménide (550-330 av. J.-C.). En Chine, en revanche, la théorie prédominante concernant l'origine de la technique des karez au Xinjiang veut que celle-ci ait été développée ailleurs dans la Plaine Centrale, pour être ensuite importée avec quelques modifications mineures. Le présent article entend démontrer que tel n'a pas été le cas et que cette technique était inconnue dans les régions occidentales à l'apogée de la présence chinoise au Xinjiang, à la fin du VIIIe siècle. Cette conclusion est confirmée par l'examen du processus historique de développement de la technique des karez telle qu'on la connaît à travers les sources d'époque Qing. Elle n'est pas apparue avant le début du XIXe siècle et doit être mise en relation avec l'entreprise coloniale des Qing dans les régions occidentales.

Affiliations: 1: CNRS, Paris

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/content/journals/10.1163/008254308x367031
2008-03-01
2016-12-05

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