AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 290

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Session 290: China and Beyond: Exchange of Material Cultures

Organizer: Lai Pik Chan, Smithsonian Institution, Hong Kong

Discussant: Haicheng Wang, University of Washington, USA

Due to the mobility of ancient people, both objects of daily use and ceremonial items can be transported across different geographical territories. In this understanding, the metaphysical aspects like style and human tastes can also be transmitted from region to region. This panel discusses the interaction between different material cultures within China, as well as those between China and beyond its frontier in the early period, beginning with the Bronze Age in the late second Millennium BCE. The emergence of deer iconography specifically on jades coincided with the rise of the Zhou Empire and the new capital of Zhouyuan. Chan Lai Pik’s paper observes the curious phenomenon of jade material culture unique to the Western Zhou period (1046-771BCE) and discusses the possible indigenous influences seen in objects from the Eurasian Steppe and Northern China. Eileen Lam’s paper explores the possible origins of the stemmed cup, a form found almost solely in the Western Han (202BCE-8CE) and that has not been discussed until present. Susanna Lam’s paper discusses the Sogdians and their role in facilitating exchange between ancient China and the Persian Empire, and aims to expand the current state of research by focusing on archaeological evidence of artistic attributes introduced by the Sogdians during the Period of Disunity, when they first settled in China. Based on different understandings on China’s territory along the centuries, this panel aims to illustrate how the vibrant interactions of different material cultures have occurred within or beyond the richly cultivated massland we now call China.

Chasing Deer Beyond the Central Plain: Deer-Shaped Jade Carvings in the Western Zhou Period (1046-771 BCE)
Lai Pik Chan, Smithsonian Institution, Hong Kong

Deer as an artistic image in Early China are rarely found in the Neolithic period, but not until early first millennium BCE. All of a sudden, the deer iconography specifically on jades bloomed in Zhouyuan, namely the Central Plain of Zhou kingdom, as well as in the Zhou’s reign along the Wei River, a sub-Yellow river during the Western Zhou period (1046-771 BCE). For example, large numbers of deer-shaped jade pendants were uncovered in two large tenth century BCE noble tombs at Rujiazhuang, Baoji Xian, in Shaanxi province, close to the newly established capital of Zhouyuan. The prevalent deer-shaped jade pendants in the Western Zhou period are mainly two-dimensional, with elaborate antler design and stylized position. By identifying exotic features and indigenous influences on the formulated Western Zhou deer iconography heavily concentrated in Western China, the author aims to: first, explain the occurrence of this curious phenomenon unique to the Zhou kingdom; second, discuss how the social and cultural implications of deer iconography for the Western Zhou people; third, examine any cultural negotiations between the settled Zhou and mobile nomadic people in the Ordos area and the Eurasian continent; and forth, establish a new understanding on possible extended influences of the Western Zhou deer iconography to prevalent deer images in Southern China, and as far as the Eastern Steppe between sixth and third centuries BCE.

The Possible Origins of Jade Goblet in China
Hau Ling Eileen Lam, Art Institute of Chicago, Hong Kong

Jade is regarded as one of the most valuable materials in China, but its role and relative value have varied in the material hierarchy within different cultural and historical context. Using the jade goblet, jade vessel that existed almost solely exists in Western Han (202 BCE–8 CE), this paper seeks to investigate the issue of materiality and identity in the context of tomb art. Jade vessels are among of the most sumptuous jade objects, given the amount of jade material consume. Because of their rarity, there are fewer than 20 jade vessels excavated from Western Han tombs. Among the findings, three types are recognized: ear-cup, circular zhi and goblet. Substantial archaeological evidence indicates that the jade ear-cup and circular zhi are forms adopted from lacquerware. The origin of the goblet, however, remains uncertain and scholarly literature on this issue is limited. This paper traces the sources of the form of stemmed cup, and compares it with other related finds from China and from regions beyond the territory of Han Empire. By examining an ample amount of information from broad geographical area, this paper will attempt to reveal the motivations for choosing jade to produce vessel, examine the development and position of jade at the time, and analyze the changes in aesthetic preference during the period concerned.

The Sogdians and Their Role in Cultural Exchange Between Ancient China and the Persian Cultural Sphere
Susanna Lam, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

The flourishing of Silk Routes trade in the first millennium CE resulted in increased exchange of commodities, technologies, and ideas between the east and the west. In China, following the official opening of the Silk Routes during the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE to 9 CE), interactions with peoples to its west continued throughout the Period of Disunity (220 to 589 CE), the Sui (589 to 618 CE), and the Tang (618 to 907 CE) dynasties. The cosmopolitan nature of the ancient capital Chang’an reached its height during the Tang dynasty, with a large percentage of its one million residents being foreigners. Among these émigrés and expatriates were the Sogdians, speakers of an Eastern Iranian language who were renowned traders along the ancient overland trade routes. While the Sogdians’ impact in promoting commercial activities is undisputable, their contribution in transmitting elements of visual arts from the Persian cultural sphere to China is a less well-explored topic. Moreover current scholarship on the Sogdians in China remains focused on the Sui and Tang dynasties. This paper aims to expand the current state of research by focusing on archaeological evidence of artistic attributes introduced by the Sogdians during the Period of Disunity, when they first settled in China. In addition, elements that traveled westward will also be discussed.