From the ascension of the Arabian Slave Trade which fueled the T’ang dynasty, blackness as commodity has circulated as the unthought specter within the Chinese social order. Through its reduction to bestial inhumanity within racialized systems of naming, the mystic K’un-lun-nu morphed into the economic templates of the Chinese Imperial state.
Hsing-Lang 1930 (Chang Hsing-lang – Professor at Catholic University of Peking in Chinese and African American Humanities, “The Importation Of Negro Slaves To China Under The Tang Dynasty (A. D. 618-901)”, Catholic University of Peking Bulletin No. 7 December, 1930 pages 37-59, http://library.uoregon.edu/ec/e-asia/read/tangslave-3.pdf - ERW)
The majority of the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands are black-skinned. It is not only the people of Chen-la who are black; there are others who are even blacker. Kun-lun of the Two Peaks is a small island of the South Sea whereonly dragons and no human beingspage 40 dwell. Though situated near Chenla, it is not a dependency there-of. Why are the terms K'un-lun and Chen-la used to designate black people? It is because all ships must pass K'un-lun on voyages to and from the South Sea, and hence its name is familiar to mariners who naturally extend this designation to denote all savages of the South Seas. In this way the name came to signify black peoplein general. The analogous use of Chen-la is due to the fact that this country was very powerful during T'ang times, having subjugated all the various tribes of South Sea Islanders." In a note, the same author further says: The Sung Shih ("Dynastic History of Sung") tells us that the Persian envoys to China were accompanied by attendants who had sunken eyes and black skin and who were called K'un-lun-nu. It is evident that these black Persian slaves were Hindoos. Thus it would appear that the term K'un-lun is here used to designate the K'unlun of the West."It is my personal opinion that Fei Hsin, a writer of the early Ming dynasty, was responsible for the corruption that changed K'un Tun Shan ("Condur". "Pulo Condore") into K'un-lun. In his Hsing Chai Sheng Lan ("Description of the Beautiful Isles"), he says: "This mountain rises very high in the midst of the sea, and forms as it were a triangle with Chan-ch'eng and the islands of Du. The mountain is a lofty rectangular eminence that extends over a large area. The surrounding sea is known as the K'un-lun Ocean. All trading vessels bound for the Western Sea pass this point after a voyage of seven days, provided the winds be favorable. The sailors have a rhyme that runs thus: 'Northbound the Seven Isles we fear; Southbound we dread K'un-lun; If rudder break or compass veer, Nor ship nor crew return.' "Nothing remarkable is to be seen on this island. The inhabitants neither build houses nor cook their food. They eat fruit, fish, and shrimps, and they live either in caves or in nests built in the trees."According to Western scholars of modern times, K'un-lun is the largest of a group of islands, its length being about 12 English miles. The group comprises other islands, the next two in size being each about three English miles in length, and there are about six ,smaller islands besides. The modern name of the largest island is Pulo Condore. It has an excellent harbor, fresh water, and luxuriant vegetation. The inhabitants, who number about eight hundred, are of Cochin China stock. The islands are under the control of the French authorities of Saigon. It is absurd to supp ose that these small islands could supply such an enormous number of black slaves to so many lands, in both East and West, during the T'ang dynasty. The notion, too, that K'un-lun Slaves were natives of Chen-la is equally groundless; for the people of Chen-la being of the Malay race have the same complexion as the Cantonese and the Annamites. The suggestion that K'un-lun came to designate black men in general, because "all ships must pass K'un-lun island on voyages to and from the South Sea," is nothing more than a conjecture. On the other hand, we have no reason to suppose that the K'un-lun Slaves derived their name from the K'un-lun Shan of the West; for the latter region has been familiar to the Chinese from From the earliest times, and no Chinese work has ever described its inhabitants as black-skinned. Inasmuch as it is clear from T'ang literature that the term K'un-lun is not a Chinese one, we may take it for granted that it is a transliteration of some Foreign name. The fol'owing passage occurs in Book II of Chu Yu's Ping Chiu K'o T'an ("Notes on P'ing Chiu") : "Many wealthy people of Canton keep Kwei-nu ('devil slaves').These are endowed with prodigious strength and can carry burdens weighing several hundred catties.Their language and tastes differ from ours, but they are docile and do not run away. They are also spoken of as yeh-jen ('savages'). Their skin is inky black, their lips red, their teeth white, and their hair is woolly and tawny. They are of both sexes. Their native haunts are the mountains beyond the sea. They eat their food raw.After being captured, they are fed on cooked food, which gives them the diarrhea. While in this condition they are said to be 'renewing their entrails.' Some of them die of the process, but those who survive become domesticated, and learn in time to understand human language, although unable to speak it themselves. Thoseof these savages who come from maritime regions, can dive into water without closing their eyes, and the same are called K'un-lun-nu." In Book CDXC of the Sung Shih ("Dynastic History of Sung") where it speaks of Arabia, we read: "In the second year of T'ai-P'ing' Hsing Kuo (i.e. A.D. 977), Arabia sent the ambassador P'u-sze-na, the viceambassador Moho-mo ('Mahmud'), and the judge P'u-lo, with the products of their country as presents. Their attendants had sunken eyes and black skin and they were called K'un-lun-nu." (IV) The Native Land of the K'un-lun Slaves Having determined the signification of the term K'un-lun-nu, we must next determine the land of their origin and the race to which they belonged. We may dismiss without further ado the suggestion that the K'un-lun-nu were natives of Arabia. The Ho-ling Kuo Tiao ("Topography of the Land of Ho-ling") contained in Book CCXXII of the Hsin Tang Shu ("New Dynastic History of T'ang") says: "In the eighth year of the Yuan Ho period (A.D. 813), the land of Ho-ling presented four Seng-chih slaves." In Book III of Chiu Ch'u-fei's Ling-wai Tai-ta ("Notes on the Lands beyond the Mountains") there is to be found a section that deals with a land named K'un-lun Ts'eng-ch'i; here, among other things, it says: "Many savages dwell on the islands. They have lacquer-black being used as a bait, and they are captured by the thousands, food being used as a bait,and they are subsequently sold into slavery." In the first part of Chao Ju-k'uo's Chu Fan Chih ("Information about Barbarians"), there is one section which treats of the various lands beyond the sea, and which says among other things: "The Land of K'un-lun Ts'eng-ch'i is situated on the shores of the Southwestern Sea behind a screen of large islands. In this land are to be found gigantic Rukhs, enormous birds whose wings outstretched darken the sun and turn day into night. They prey upon wild camels, which they swallow at a single gulp. The quills of the feathers which they shed, are cut into sections by the natives to serve as water-casks. The products of page 42 the land consist of elephant tusks and rhinoceros' horns. To the west there is an island peopled with savages whose complexion is like black lacquer and whose tresses resemble wriggling tadpoles. They are captured by using food as a bait, and are sold at great profit to the Arabs as slaves. The Arabs entrust them with their keys, knowing that they will be faithful be-cause they have nokith nor kin." From the last two quotations we obtain detailed information regarding the place from which the Arabs got their slaves. Seng-chih and Ts'eng-ch'i are identical with the Zinj of Cosmas' Topographia Christiana. On the maps and in the geographical works of the present day this place is designated as Zanzibar. Marco Polo, in Book III, Chapter 34, of his Travels, calls the locality Zanghibar, "which being interpreted means The Region of the Blacks.'" The Arabs give the name of Zanzibar to that portion of East Africa that stretches from the Juba River to Cape Delgado, eleven degrees south of the equator. According to Abulfeda, the King of Zinj resided at Monbasa. In the parlance of modern Europeans the name of Zanzibar has been restricted to a small island. In Book III, Chapter 33, of Marco Polo's Travels, where he speaks of the Island of Madagascar, we have the following passage: "In this Island, and in another beyond it called Zanghibar, about which we shall tell you afterwards, there are more elephants than in any country in the world. The amount of traffic in elephants' teeth in these two Islands is something astonishing." Further on we read: "Tis said that in those other Islands to the south, which the ships are unable to visit because this strong current prevents their return, is found the bird Gryphon, which appears there at certain seasons. The description given of it is however entirely different from what our stories and pictures make it. For persons who had been there and had seen it, told Messer Marco, Polo that it was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size; so big in fact that its wings covered an extent of 30 paces, and its quills were 12 paces long, and thick in proportion. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air, and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him the bird gryphon swoops down on him and eats him at leisure. The people of those isles call the bird Ruck, and it has no other name. So I wot not if this be the real gryphon, or if there be another manner of bird as great. But this I can tell you for certain, that they are not half lion and half bird as our stories do relate; but enormous as they be they are fashioned just like an eagle." Later he adds : "They brought (as I have heard) to the Great Kaan a feather of the said Ruc, which was stated to measure ninety spans, whilst the quill part was two palms in circumference, a marvellous object!" In Chapter 34 of the same Book. we read : "Zanghibar is a great and noble Island, with a compass of some 2000 miles. The people are all idolaters, and have a king and a language of their own, and pay tribute to nobody. They are both tall and stout, but not tall in proportion to their stoutness. for if they were, being so stout and brawny, they would be absolutely like giants; and they are so strong that they will carry for four men and eat for five. page 43 "They are all black, and go stark naked, with only a little covering for decency. Their hair is as black as pepper, and so frizzly that even with water you can scarcely straighten it. And their mouths are so large, their noses so turned up, their lips so thick, their eyes so big and bloodshot that they look like very devils; they are in fact so hideously ugly that the world has nothing to show more horrid. "Elephants are produced in this country in wonderful profusion. There are also lions that are black and quite different from ours. And their sheep and wethers are all exactly alike in color ; the body all white and the head black ; no other kind of sheep is found there, you may rest assured . . . . The women of this Island are the ugliest in the world, with their great mouths and big eyes and thick noses; their breasts too are four times bigger than those of any other women ; a very disgusting sight." Marco Polo's description of Madagascar and Zanzibar agrees perfectly with Chao Ju-k'uo's description of K'un-lun Ts'eng-ch'i. And it is beyond all doubt that Ts'eng-ch'iis a Chinese rendering of Zinj, or Zenj, or Zanzi, or Zanghi. Zanghibar, according to Marco Polo, means the "Region of the Blacks." Hence we have every reason to believe that the prefix K'un-lun signifies "black"for which it is a Chinese rendering of either the Arabic or the Persian. Hui Ch'ao speaking of Persia in his previously quoted work says that the Persians were wont to go to K'un-lun for gold. This agrees with what Cosmas records regarding the people of Axum who go to Africa for gold." Hence we have the strongest reasons for identifying K'unlun with Africa.