Entering the New Year’s Exhibition of the Palace Museum—

Listen to the echoes of exchanges between ancient civilizations between China and West Asia

  Reporter Zou Yating

  At the beginning of 2024, the Palace Museum, together with the National Museum of Iran, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts of Iran, the Royal Commission of AlUla in Saudi Arabia and other institutions, launched "Historical Encounters - Ancient China and West Asia" in the Meridian Gate Exhibition Hall of the Palace Museum. "Civilization Exchange Exhibition", "Glorious Persia - Essence of Iranian Cultural Relics Exhibition", "AlUla - Miracle Oasis of the Arabian Peninsula Exhibition". The three major exhibitions use exquisite cultural relics to connect important civilizations along the Silk Road, present the long and splendid history and culture of China and West Asia, and showcase the glorious chapter of exchanges, integration, and mutual learning between different civilizations.

The historical encounter between China and West Asia

  China and West Asia, located at the east and west ends of the Asian continent, have had exchanges and interactions since prehistoric times. The ancient civilizations of China and West Asia jointly created the glory of the Silk Road and promoted the common prosperity of the civilizations of the Eurasian continent.

  "Historical Encounter - Exchange Exhibition of Ancient Civilizations between China and West Asia" includes two units: "East and West Shine" and "The Great Road Connects". The exhibits are based on the collection of the Palace Museum, and bring together Datong City Museum, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology National Costume Museum, Dongguan City Museum, Hepu County Museum, Famen Temple Museum, Zhengzhou Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology, Museum of the King of Nanyue, A total of 266 pieces (groups) of collections and pictures from 10 domestic and foreign archaeological and cultural institutions including the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum and the National Museum of Iran.

  At the beginning of the exhibition, a set of ancient books tells the story of exchanges between China and West Asia. "Historical Records: Biography of Dawan" records the historical process of the Han Dynasty opening land transportation between China and the Western Regions; "Hanshu: Biography of the Western Regions" records the history and geographical overview of foreign civilizations known to Chinese officials during the Han Dynasty and their exchanges with China; Tang Dynasty The "Tongdian" of the dynasty contains the fragments of Du Huan's "Jingxingji". The original book has been lost. It is one of the earliest Chinese historical materials to record the situation of the Arab Empire; the "New Book of Tang" written by Ouyang Xiu and others in the Northern Song Dynasty preserves the records of the Tang Dynasty. The sea route from Guangzhou via South Asia to the great food country in West Asia; the "Zheng He Navigation Chart" included in the Ming Dynasty's "Wu Bei Zhi" is accompanied by illustrations and records the route of Zheng He's fleet starting from Nanjing and passing through West Asia to the east coast of Africa. It is The world's earliest nautical chart of a vast ocean.

  There are also records about China in some ancient books and documents in West Asia. The "Historical Collection" written in Persian is a world history work published by the Ilkhanate more than 700 years ago. The book records a brief history of China with pictures and texts. This book has since been translated into Arabic, Russian, Chinese and many other versions.

  "Chinese civilization has been based on agriculture since ancient times. Agricultural products and handicrafts from West Asia were introduced to China, which promoted the development of Chinese civilization." said Ji Luoyuan, associate research librarian of the Artifacts Department of the Palace Museum. About 4,000 years ago, wheat was introduced to China from West Asia and gradually spread in the northern region. Together with rice that originated in China, it formed the pattern of "rice in the south and wheat in the north" in Chinese agriculture. At about the same time, sheep, cattle, horses and other livestock from West and Central Asia entered the Central Plains through Xinjiang and the Hexi Corridor. Rice, dogs and other species native to China also spread westward and were integrated into the local natural ecology and agriculture and animal husbandry respectively. production system.

  "This jade bonsai with grape branches and red flower patterns was originally stored in the Ruyi Pavilion of the Qing Palace. It represents an important plant in the exchange between China and the West - grape." Maria Aihaiti, a staff member of the Scientific Research Department of the Palace Museum, said that China is The main origin of grapes in East Asia. This grape has been used as a raw material for making fruit wine in the pre-Qin period, and a small part of it is used for food. The main varieties of table grapes today are Eurasian varieties, originating from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and West Asia, and were first domesticated in Iran. After about 2000 BC, Eurasian grapes were introduced to Xinjiang, China via two routes: grassland and desert. During the Han and Tang Dynasties, Xinjiang became China’s grape growing center.

  Alfalfa, pomegranate, frankincense, saffron... With the prosperity of Silk Road trade, more and more West Asian specialties have entered China. The ceramic lions and stone lions in the showcase are vivid and cute. Maria Ahiti introduced that lions are native to North Africa, West Asia and other places. The earliest record of lions in China can be found in "Han Shu·Biography of the Western Regions". After the opening of the Silk Road, exchanges between China and West Asia increased. Lions were brought to China as tribute and gradually evolved into an auspicious animal image with Chinese characteristics.

The brilliant achievements of mutual learning

  In the process of the formation and development of China's ritual and music civilization, bronze wares played a very important role. The emergence of China's bronze, iron, gold and silver manufacturing industries has a local origin and is also influenced by Western Asia. The elements of West Asian art displayed on bronze ritual vessels, weapons, gold and silverware are the imprint of cultural exchanges between China and West Asia.

  "The Shang Dynasty dragon-headed dagger collected by the Palace Museum is obviously different in style from the bronze weapons of the Central Plains." Ji Luoyuan said. The head of this knife is in the shape of a dragon's head, with vertical corners and round eyes, the eyes are inlaid with turquoise, and the mouth is slightly open. The handle of the knife is slightly curved and inlaid with a row of turquoise. The back is decorated with dense tooth-like protrusions and a ring is cast underneath. According to reports, short knives with various decorations on the handle are daily utensils used by the northern grassland people. Similar utensils have been found in the vast area from the Great Wall to Lake Baikal, confirming the exchange of Eastern and Western cultures on the Eurasian grasslands.

  China's gold and silverware manufacturing technology developed rapidly during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, and had formed a relatively mature craft system by the Han Dynasty. During this period, West Asian gold and silver products continued to spread eastward, setting off a trend of localized imitation and transformation. The split-valve silver box unearthed from the tomb of the Nanyue King in Guangzhou, Guangdong, has the main shape and decoration of the utensils from the Mediterranean and ancient Persia. The buttons on the lid and the ring feet on the bottom were modified by craftsmen according to local needs in China. result.

  During the Sui and Tang Dynasties in the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Sasanian Persian utensils such as multi-curved long cups, goblets, and animal-handled pots were introduced to China. Chinese craftsmen drew on its shapes and decorations to create gold, silver, ceramics, jade, etc. with both Western and local styles. A Tang Dynasty gilt silver petal-shaped bowl with flower and bird patterns unearthed in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. Its folded belly shape and pearl ground pattern are in the style of the Western Regions, and the flower and bird patterns are traditional Chinese decorative themes.

  China is the first country in the world to produce and use silk. In the exhibition, there is an ivory-carved silkworm from the Yangshao Culture unearthed from the Shuanghuaishu site in Zhengzhou, Henan. It is the earliest image of a silkworm discovered in China. Together with the silk remains unearthed from the surrounding sites of the same period, it proves that the silkworm was cultivated in the Heluo area about 5,300 years ago. Silkworms reeling.

  During the Han and Jin Dynasties, Chinese silk fabrics and silk weaving technology spread along the Silk Road to the Mongolian Plateau, West Asia and even the Mediterranean coast. Craftsmen from all over the world combine it with their own cultural traditions to create distinctive and colorful fabrics. From the Northern Dynasties to the Sui and Tang Dynasties, Persian fabrics came to China. Chinese craftsmen imitated exotic patterns, absorbed foreign themes, and designed new patterns that were in line with local aesthetics. The weft patterning technique used in Persian brocade has gradually become popular in China since the Northern Dynasties. After the Tang Dynasty, twill weft brocade replaced warp brocade and became the mainstream product of Chinese jacquard fabrics.

  The showcase displays several fragments of twill weft brocade from the Tang Dynasty unearthed from the Astana Cemetery in Turpan, Xinjiang. The patterns have an obvious West Asian style. One of the fragments of a knight's brocade pattern shows a knight riding a winged horse with a high nose and long beard in the circle of linked beads. Ji Luoyuan introduced that the winged horse pattern is a common decorative pattern in Sasanian Persian culture and has a special meaning in the Zoroastrianism that the Persians believe in. This pattern entered China around the late Northern Dynasties, and its religious overtones were gradually diluted as it spread.

  Glass craft originated in West Asia and North Africa. During the Pre-Qin Dynasty, glass products were introduced to China. Later, the Chinese ancestors mastered the technology of firing glass and used it to make ritual vessels. The exhibition hall displays a dazzling array of glassware: glass swords produced locally in China during the Warring States and Han Dynasties, glass bowls made by craftsmen in the Northern Wei Dynasty using Western glass blowing techniques, Islamic carved glass plates unearthed from the Tang Dynasty underground palace of Famen Temple in Baoji, Shaanxi, Yuan and Ming dynasties The glass painted gold amphora with the Islamic double bird pattern from the period... They reflect the magnificent picture of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road.

  Blue and white porcelain is a product of the perfect combination of China's advanced porcelain-making technology and West Asian pigments and aesthetic appeal. Since its inception in the Tang Dynasty, it was revived in the Yuan Dynasty, and in the Ming and Qing Dynasties it has become a grand sight and is famous all over the world. The manufacture of blue and white porcelain embodies the ancient Chinese people's spirit of openness to learning and determination to innovate.

  In the display cabinet, blue and white porcelain of various shapes such as plates, bowls, jars, bottles and so on are exquisite and eye-catching. A Yuan blue and white lotus pond with mandarin duck pattern and rhombus mouth plate attracted the reporter's attention. Ji Luoyuan said that research shows that the green material used in the blue and white porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty should be a cobalt earth mineral from the ancient Persian region of West Asia, which is called Sulaymani locally. This blue and white porcelain plate's large body, rhombus-shaped mouth and dense decorative style are all influenced by Islamic culture. The lotus pond and mandarin ducks painted in the center of the plate have been a popular decorative theme in China since the late Tang Dynasty.

Continuously writing glorious chapters of the Silk Road

  Iran is an ancient civilization with a long history in West Asia. Its prehistoric culture can be traced back to hundreds of thousands of years ago. The Achaemenid dynasty, Parthian dynasty, and Sasanian dynasty it successively established have extensive influence in the world. During the Western Han Dynasty, China called it "Anthia", and after the Southern and Northern Dynasties, it was called "Persia". "Brilliant Persia - The Essence of Iranian Cultural Relics Exhibition" brings together 216 cultural relics collected by many museums in Iran, showing the brilliance of ancient Iranian art from aspects of architecture, sculpture, ceramics, glass, metal, calligraphy, and painting.

  Laitong is a unique utensil in West Asian culture, generally referring to an angular wine glass with a mouth at the bottom. In the "Historical Encounter - Exchange Exhibition of Ancient Civilizations between China and West Asia", a Tang Sancai duck-style cup modeled after West Asia Laitong was displayed. Zhai Yi, associate research librarian of the Artifacts Department of the Palace Museum, said that although the original origin of Laitong has yet to be verified, studies have proven that Iran made a great contribution to the spread of Laitong. Early pottery was mostly in the shape of animals and was not necessarily used for banquets. Later, it gradually became fixed in the shape of an angle. The exhibition presents various shapes of laitong unearthed in Iran, including a simple and abstract cow shape, a vivid and realistic sheep's head shape, a small boot shape, and a laitong that represents a person pushing a group of jars. The tanks are all connected to each other, and the liquid contained in each tank flows out from the long outlet at the front.

  The most eye-catching thing is the Winged Lion Golden Laitong in the independent display cabinet. This vessel is shaped like a lion with wings, its front legs are prostrate, and its hind legs turn into a raised cup mouth. The whole body is decorated with various exquisite patterns. This winged lion Jin Laitong is a product of the Achaemenid Dynasty, dating from about 500 BC to 450 BC. It is still intact and golden, which is amazing.

  No later than the early 9th century, Chinese porcelain was already known to the Persians, and porcelain from the Changsha Kiln and Xing Kiln of the Tang Dynasty was unearthed locally. After that, Chinese porcelain was continuously introduced to Persia in successive dynasties. The exhibition recreates a scene of maritime trade, with a merchant ship crossing the strait carrying Chinese Longquan kiln stemmed bowls destined for Persia.

  Starting from the Safavid Emperor Abbas I, a large number of royal treasures were donated to the Adbil Temple, including exquisite porcelain from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties of China. The display cabinets display oriental porcelain collected by the Adebir Temple, such as blue and white plates with phoenix patterns from the Yuan Dynasty, sauce-colored Jiajing bowls from the Ming Dynasty, and "Clark" style blue and white bowls from the Ming Dynasty.

  AlUla is located in northwest Saudi Arabia and is a valley oasis in the desert. Historically, it was a hub for the Silk Road and spice journeys, an important stopover for camel caravans across the Arabian Peninsula, and a crossroads for many religious pilgrimage routes. "AlUla - The Miraculous Oasis of the Arabian Peninsula Exhibition" is the first time that AlUla shows its magnificent natural scenery, rare archaeological relics and rich cultural heritage to Chinese audiences, bringing the audience a wonderful and immersive viewing experience experience. The exhibition is divided into four parts: "Prehistory to the Bronze Age", "Kingdoms in the Northern Arabian Peninsula", "Writing and Language" and "Modern AlUla". There are more than 230 exhibits in total, including 50 newly unearthed items that have never been displayed to the public before. cultural relics. (People's Daily Overseas Edition)