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Feature: Life Long Quest for Mystery of Ancient Xixia Kingdom

BEIJING, July 16 -- Professor Li Fanwen, an authority on the research of the Xixia (Western Xia) civilization, will published "The General History of Xixia" which comprises the highest achievements in the field later this year.

Li's monumental works also include "Xia-Mandarin Dictionary", " Northern Chinese Dialects in Song Dynasty" and "Studies on Identical Sounds".

Xixia, an ancient kingdom that existed a thousand years ago in the northwest part of China, disappeared mysteriously like the Mayan Culture, leaving a question mark in world civilization history.

Ironically, studies on the remote Xixia history, which is an important part of Chinese history, have been based outside China for a long time.

The birthplace of Xixia studies has long been recognized as Russia where a great amount of historical records and relics of the Xixia culture were discovered in 1909.

Such remarks as "Xixia studies in Japan or Russia" often embarrass Chinese scholars.

"We must preserve the precious cultural legacy," said Professor Li, adding that he wants to tell the world "although China started the research comparatively late, Chinese scholars are confident at taking the lead in the research because it is our own history."

But it's easier said than done, said Li, also a visiting professor at a number of prestigious universities including Beijing University, Nanjing University and Fudan University.

The Xixia kingdom, established by a Dangxiang clan in the 11th century, was short-lived, with a history of only 190 years, before the fierce Mongolian army troops razed it to the ground.

"The Xixia culture was then severely damaged, with few books and records remained," Li said.

What adds to the difficulty in understanding the Xixia history is the abstruseness of Xixia characters, which were named "words from heaven."

For nearly half a century, Li exerted his utmost effort to work on a series of academic books including the 500,000-word "The Northern Chinese Dialects of the Song Dynasty (960-1279)" and the 700,000-word "Studies on Identical Sounds of Ancient Chinese".

Li was also in charge of compiling "The General History of Xixia", which synthesizes a great amount of unearthed relics and archaeological records. According to Li, it will be a milestone in China's research on Xixia studies and will play an important role in international studies on Xixia.

"Understanding Xixia characters, to me, is only the first- stepping stone to final success," Li said, "My ultimate goal is to complete a thorough study system on the General History of Xixia and to pass on my knowledge to the youth."

Li's 40-year endeavor in studying of the mystery of the ancient kingdom is deeply touching. His love for the "words from heaven" began in 1955, when he was an undergraduate at the Central China University for Nationalities and happened to come across some Xixia characters while reading a piece of ancient relic paper by chance.

Despite opposition from his relatives and even a divorce from his wife, he carried on his life-long journey in China's barren and desolate west.

In 1972, encouraged by the late Premier Zhou Enlai, who was interested in Xixia studies, Li began to stay at the excavation sites day and night to keep up with the firsthand information.

He spent seven years near the mausoleums, scrutinizing 3,270 tombstones. The note cards he made numbered more than 30,000, weighing nearly 100 kilograms.

Afterwards he devoted his time to the compilation of the 1.5 million-word "Xixia Mandarin Dictionary", of which 800,000 characters were finished under oil lamps in tents near the mausoleums.

For phonetic notation of the dictionary, he scaled mountains and crossed streams to visit the posterity of the Xixia people.

Nowadays, Li still rushes about in Taiwan, Japan and Russia collecting historical records, and making academic exchanges with his overseas counterparts.

In order to popularize knowledge on the Xixia civilization, he is now planning to publish a simplified Xixia-Mandarin dictionary.

Beijing University, Nanjing University and Fudan University are inviting Li to tutor graduate students, and he will choose one of them, to "pass his knowledge on".

"The cultural legacy must be preserved, and I will devote my life to Xixia research." Li said.

-- source: Xinhua News Agency

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