A Qing dynasty altar set

A bigger picture

The arrival of glass in China in the late Bronze Age indicates the early existence of significant overland trade routes connecting China with central Asia and beyond. By the Han dynasty (206 BCAD 220) we know that there were also well-established sea-routes. Not just merchandise was carried along such trade routes; they were the ancient internet linking cultures and transmitting artistic traditions, new ideas and religions such as Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Here is a selection of objects which demonstrate the richness brought to Chinese thought and art by contacts with other cultures.

Buddhist art in China


Early examples of Buddhist art in China in the AD 400500s, particularly at the Yungang Caves in Shanxi Province show influence from India and Persia.

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Chinese silverware of the Tang Dynasty


The influence of Islamic art can be clearly seen in Chinese silverware of the Tang Dynasty; AD 618906.

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Chinese blue-and-white porcelain


The Arab world was one of the main export markets for Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. This example clearly shows Islamic influence.

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Chinese porcelain


There was great demand for Chinese porcelain in Europe and big companies and rich families sent their coats of arms to be copied onto dinner services. This plate and cup carry the arms of the Dutch East India Company.

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Gilt glass flask


Gilt glass flask from Syria; AD 1200s. Items such as this, traded along the Silk Route, influenced Chinese blue and white porcelain of the Yuan and Ming dynasties in both shape and decoration.

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Porcelain brush-rest


Porcelain brush-rest from the Ming dynasty; AD 150621. The form and decoration are Chinese, but it has an inscription in Arabic calligraphy. It could either have been made for export to the Middle East, or for a Muslim official in the Ming court.

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A Qing dynasty altar set