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History's forgotten chapter revived

Updated: 2013-09-24 09:22
By Liu Jun ( China Daily)

Around the time when Attila the Hun was besieging Rome, Helian Bobo was wreaking havoc across China. Now an account of this fascinating period has been translated into English. Liu Jun reports.

Readers interested in Chinese history and the Hun cavaliers can learn more about the turbulent 4th and 5th centuries in an English version of a Chinese novel to be published in November.

Gao Jianqun, an author based in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, has made an impressive attempt to capture a long neglected part of history in his latest novel Tongwan City.

The book features two legendary figures: Helian Bobo, last chieftain of the southern Xiongnu tribe, and Kumarajiva, a Buddhist master whose teaching and translation helped lay the foundation of the Mahayana School of Buddhism in China.

"Many Westerners knew about Attila, the Hun leader who almost felled the Roman Empire. Tongwan City is essentially about the same people around the same time except that this horde of Huns wrought havoc half a world away," Mu Xiaoliang, who translated the book into English for New York-based CN Times Books, says.

History's forgotten chapter revived

Tongwan city in Shaanxi province was home to the rich history of the Xiongnu cavaliers about 1,500 years ago. Photos Provided to China Daily

History's forgotten chapter revived

Gao Jianqun visits the pagoda where the sarira of Kumarajiva's tongue is said to be enshrined at the Caotang Temple in Xi'an. The author of Tongwan City has drawn rich inspiration from his historical research and extensive travels in Northwest China.

"I think Western readers will find the book charmingly familiar. The story itself is very Shakespearian. It is a tragedy about revenge and treachery. Tongwan City also has an admirable but flawed protagonist who finds it hard to tell good from evil."

Helian Bobo, who resurrected the diminishing southern Xiongnu branch, occupied much of the Yellow River's middle reaches with cunning, patience, an iron will and iron hoofs.

On his orders, some 100,000 laborers toiled day and night for six years before finishing Tongwan city in today's Shaanxi province in AD 418.

History's forgotten chapter revived

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