Sharing a history of progress

By Wang Kaihao | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-23 05:53
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An enameled and gilded glass vase with ancient Islamic patterns. [Photo by Wang Kaihao/China Daily]

Glass was another major cultural ambassador between China and West Asia. Though glass beads were introduced to China, becoming part of the collections of nobles as early as the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-771 BC), it only became a key import after the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) when trade along the Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road routes thrived. As a result, Chinese artisans were inspired to make glass products of their own.

A graveyard in Datong in today's Shanxi province, which was once the capital city of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), has yielded many pieces of exquisite glassware, as the exhibition shows. During the fifth century, when the city was known as Pingcheng, it was a hub for glass production.

Ji says that the use of precious glass vessels was also localized after their arrival in China. For example, after glass perfume bottles were introduced to China from Persia, they were popular at Buddhist temples for use during the worship of sacred relics.

One highlighted exhibit is a typically Islamic-style glass plate dating back to the Tang Dynasty. It was found in the underground palace of the Famen Temple in Xi'an in Shaanxi, and may prove surprising for its inclusion in a royal Tang Buddhist temple.

"How much influence a civilization accepts depends on whether it has an open mind and an inclusive attitude toward others," Wang Guangyao, a researcher at the Palace Museum, says.

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