Reconciling the Varied Stories

Arniko Myths, (De)colonization, and Nationalization Between Nepal and China

  • Zezhou Yang SOAS, University of London
  • Tianyi Chen
Keywords: Transculturation, Nepal-China-relations, nationalism, decolonization, trans-Himalayan art


Arniko—the celebrated traveler, painter, architect, and sculptor—traveled to the court of the Yuan Empire in the 13th century, centuries before the modern states of Nepal and China came into existence. Arniko’s journey traverses boundaries and borders, including those of modern nation-states. However, modern myths invented and circulated between the 1940s to the 1980s prune and flatten this complexity into a framework based on European languages and norms to impose order and control over diverse local viewpoints and interpretations. Nepaliness is constructed by attributing ethnicity and citizenship to Arniko, and projected onto an ancient past, to impute a long-standing friendship between Nepal and China. We investigate the myths through a transcultural lens and show how a variety of actors use Arniko to fulfill their agendas of decolonization and nationalization and how these nuanced agendas have affected their construction of Arniko. Moreover, based on an analysis of art that is attributed to Arniko, we introduce methodology from art history to provide an alternative transcultural method for “reconstructing” Arniko. We argue that the modern myths about Arniko are constructed, maintained, and performed as ideological and territorialization processes of control over disputed geography and ethnic cultural identities.

How to Cite
Yang, Z., & Chen, T. (2023). Reconciling the Varied Stories. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 42(1), 28-47.
Research Articles