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Africa: China's Pottery Trade On the 'Belt and Road', World Civilization (Part I) - allAfrica.com
2016/07/21

By Iddy MwemaTanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam) 26 JUNE 2016

 

The initiative of the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road has drawn public attention to the land and maritime Silk Road, which appeared in the distant past because of commercial trade.

 

In fact, the goods transported and sold on the road contained not only silk, but also other Chinese products like tea, porcelain, lacquer ware and so on. Chinese products at that time had worldwide-recognized supremacy.

 

American scholar Robert Finlay once said in his book, "The first step to globalization of human materialistic culture was launched under China's leadership. In most of the human history, Chinese economy was the most advanced and developed in the world."

 

But today, we seem to have forgotten the glorious history, and have forgotten that China is not only an agricultural country, but also a country with developed maritime trade.

 

Hence, the porcelain trade on the "Belt and Road" is the theme among other topics discussed by Prof Fang Lili, Member of National Committee of experts for China intangible culture heritage protection, and Director of Art Anthropology of China Academy of Arts.

 

Prof Lili gave lecture at China Cultural Centre in Dar es Salaam on how the world civilization interacts by China's porcelain trade on the land and maritime Silk Road to reposition the influence of Chinese material culture to the reproduction of world civilization. The "Silk Road" has been proposed for consideration as UNESCO World Heritage and it is a result of interactions with other cultures.

 

"People from other cultures who came to trade in China also brought their cultures as well and made China rich in terms of culture," she noted. History reveals that China is the earliest country which invented porcelain.

Beginning from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), Chinese porcelain became quite developed. And in Tang Dynasty (618-907), Chinese porcelain was sold to many countries in the world. In a history of a thousand years, Chinese porcelain has been served as the centre of world cultural communication, and was the most beloved, admired and widely imitated product in the world.

 

In addition, porcelain trade was special on the Silk Road. The trade of tea, spice and silk was in a one-way journey from East to West. It was difficult to trace its past as they were all consumed at the arrival.

 

The opening of China's water transport began from Sui Dynasty (581-618) and was consummated in Tang Dynasty (618-907). The construction of Tongji Canal was begun in 605, which introduced Luo and Gu Rivers to Yellow River; and then Yellow River and Huai River were connected.

 

Through water, the grains and goods were transported to the capital city.

 

Till the time of Emperor Suzong of Tang (711-762), the transshipment storehouses at the confluences of Yangtze River-Hangou Canal, Bian River-Yellow River and Yellow River-Wei River were strengthened.

 

From then on, the Tang society was quite prosperous. The development of water transport in Tang Dynasty led to the development of shipbuilding industry, especially in southern areas of Yangtze River.

 

The development of water transport in Tang Dynasty also led to the export of Chinese porcelain. For instance, the kiln in Gong county in Henan province, which produced white porcelain, three-colour porcelain and blue-and-white porcelain, was located at the confluence of Luo River and Yellow River.

 

That area was a communication hub of northern China. Starting from this area, through water transport, the porcelain could be sent to cities in China like Luoyang, Chang'an, countries like North Korea and Japan (East Asia), South Asia, and the Middle East. Since ancient times, there were two vital communication channels from China to foreign areas: one is to the northwest by land; the other is to the southeast by sea. Since Han Dynasty, the northwest land traffic had been increasingly developed.

 

In the Eastern Han Dynasty, Ban Chao served as envoy to the West Regions, and reached the Mediterranean, Rome and other countries. Thus, Chinese silk was sent to Rome.

 

As for the sea route to the southeast, it passed through Vietnam (which belonged to China then), Guangzhou and other places via ocean transportation.

 

Till Tang Dynasty, the sea route was developed. To take the routes from Mingzhou Harbour as an example, starting from here, the ships could reach the Philippines, Java, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, the Persian Gulf, Samarra, Gulf of Aden, Aydhab, the Nile, Fostat, Kilwa and so on.

 

In Tang Dynasty, China was the most developed country in the world. Emperors of Tang extended their sovereignty to all directions till North Korea, Vietnam, and the nomadic tribes and desert areas in central Asia.

 

Meanwhile, Tang government attached great importance to foreign trade. In order to manage the foreign trade, during Kaiyuan (AD 713--741 years), the Government established a port office in Guangzhou.

 

Other trading ports in Tang Dynasty were Quanzhou, Hangzhou and Yangzhou. Guangzhou and Yangzhou in Tang Dynasty could respectively rival today's Hong Kong and Shanghai in prosperity.

 

Tanzania: China's Pottery Trade On the 'Belt and Road', World Civilisation (Part II) - allAfrica.com

http://allafrica.com/stories/201607040099.html?aa_source=nwsltr-asiaaustraliaandafrica-en

Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam) 3 July 2016

 

Narrated on the migration of goods and people, Prof Fang Lili said, Tang Dynasty in China was a place with intensified migration of goods and people.

 

The capital city Chang'an (now Xi'an), which was a central city in the world with about two million people and a large number of foreign businessmen from Byzantium and the Middle East countries.

 

It was the biggest city in the world at that time, like a big magnet, attracting jugglers, painters, dancers, magicians and musicians from other countries. In addition, Syrian merchants, the Persian priests, Sogdian craftsmen, Jewish doctors, Arab jewelers, Tibetan mercenaries, Uygur horse providers and so on.

 

They all traveled back and forth on the land and maritime Silk Road. Now, the coins of Persian Empire are often discovered in the northwest China and the middle reaches of the Yellow River to Guangdong Province, which shows the business scope of Persians in China at that time.

 

The Arab Empire, which stretched over Asia, Europe and Africa, had close business relations with China since 649-655.

 

Through the land and maritime Silk Road, the Arabs sold herbs, spices, jewelry and other items to China, and introduced Chinese silk, porcelain, paper-making technology, alchemy, sericulture and silk waving technology to Europe and Africa.

 

The Arab Empire played an intermediary role in introducing Chinese culture and products into Europe. In ancient Chinese history, Song Dynasty (960-1279) was a highly prosperous era in commodity economy, education and scientific innovation, and was also the peak time of ceramic production, during which there were numerous famous kilns.

 

However, compared with Tang Dynasty, Song was an era from opening to restraining. The territory of Tang was vast, with more than 12 million square kilometers, while surrounded by other tribes and countries; the territory of Song shrank into only 4 million square kilometers. The territory of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) was even smaller.

 

At that time, China was very cautious of the outside world, and had strong selfidentity (and self-defensive) in its culture.

 

The broadmindedness of embracing multiculturalism of Tang encountered a dramatic change. As for the ceramic products, exotic shapes and ornamentation began to decline, which was replaced by shapes and ornamentation from the traditional Chinese cultures with a retro trend. Though the restrained and self-constrained Song Dynasty, the government still attached great importance to overseas trade.

 

In the early years of the Northern Song Dynasty, the government established port offices in Hangzhou to manage the trade. On the international sea routes at that time, many Chinese merchants and Arabs dominated the trade in China and Indian Ocean.

 

At that time, the Muslim traders of different countries and Chinese traders both took active attitudes to maritime transport and trade. When the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) conquered the north China, the first phase of Song ended, which was called the Northern Song Dynasty.

 

And then Jin nearly cut off all the contacts between the Southern Song Dynasty and the central Asia. From 1126-1279, Chinese emperors could only govern the remnant of their territory at the temporary capital city in Hangzhou. The area at that time was only twothirds of the original territory.

 

The northern powers blocked the way to the Silk Road, so the Southern Song Dynasty turned to the sea. Thus, the production of exported porcelain turned to the coastal areas.

 

If the first peak of porcelain export was in Tang Dynasty, the second peak should be in Yuan Dynasty, the early 14th century. The Mongols established as the world's largest empire, which extended from North Korea and China to Russia and Hungary.

 

This international scale of the Mongol Empire, making it comparable to the European expansion that led to a great integration of cultures and systems. From the 11th century to the 15th century, the expansion of Turkic and Mongolian conquers built an unprecedented close contact on the Eurasian land.

 

By promoting unprecedented cross-cultural communication and exchange, the nomadic empire integrated all groups' life and experience of the most areas of the Eastern Hemisphere, and the Mongols' control extended from China to the Persian region.

 

Right because of the rise of the power, the Eurasia became a safe business trade channel, even individuals were capable of crossing the entire Eurasia. At that time, Marco Polo, his father and uncle walked back and forth on the land between China and Europe. Then, China and the distant Western Europe were linked together for the first time.

 

Learning between civilizations is often circuitous and riverside. For example, in the 11th century, Persian merchants sold the porcelain of Tang style to Southwest Asia, while the craftsmen there did not know the porcelain actually belonged to their ancestors, and imitated one after another.

 

Some Chinese style plant ornamentation, introduced into China from Persia in Tang Dynasty, returned via the Silk Road and rooted in Ilkhanate (1256-1335) after several centuries.

 

For several centuries, it was changed better by the Islamic upper class which adored Chinese culture very much. Then, the Chinese-style patterns which were affected by Persia were constantly reproduced in books, weaving carpets, metal wares and ceramics, and on walls and roofs.

 

Africa: China's Pottery Trade On the 'Belt and Road', World Civilisation (Part III)10 JULY 2016

Last week we saw how the Arab Empire played an intermediary role in introducing Chinese culture and products into Europe through the land and maritime Silk Road. The Arab sold herbs, spices, jewelry and other items to China and introduced Chinese silk, porcelain, paper-making technology, alchemy, sericulture and silk waving technology to Europe and Africa. This week, Our Correspondent IDDI MWEMA analyses Prof Fang Lili's research findings. The professor is a Member of National Committee of experts for Chinese intangible culture, heritage protection, and Director of Art Anthropology of China Academy of Arts explained on the spread of Chinese civilisation in the world...

 

THE spread of Chinese civilisation in the world started when Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) ended the rule of Yuan Dynasty. And Confucianism was neglected by the Mongol rulers; Ming emperors began to return to the Chinese traditional culture.

 

On the one hand, the royal academy and local institutions provided financial support to develop Confucianism and began to compile Confucian classics; on the other hand, the government began to restore the imperial examination system which was abandoned by Mongol rulers.

 

In the eyes of the Confucian ruling class, China's most important duty was to civilise other groups by introducing its language, decrees and regulations, dress, laws, classics and silk, paintings, porcelain and so on to them. All the materials exported were carriers of culture, which were the most important. Right because of the exported carriers of culture, China's civilized image was established.

 

Since Han and Tang Dynasties, China had been the economic center of the world and the small countries around also benefited from the communication of materials and cultures with China.

 

Till the period of Yongle in Ming Dynasty (1403-1424), the emperor took a very bold action to restructure the relationship between China and the world. He appointed Zheng He the envoy with a fleet of 317 ships and 28,000 people, sailed out from China in 1405.

 

That action was the only expedition and invincible at that time. Similar large-scale expeditions occurred seven times, taking 28 years from 1405 to 1433. And another emperor, Xuande, following the Emperor Yongle, who tried an initiative action to command China's maritime cause by spreading national pride with sea power.

 

The scene was impressive for the locals when Zheng He's fleet went into the ports of other countries. According to Zheng He's Muslim interpreter officer Ma Huan's book, "wherever the messenger of the Ming emperor arrived, the leaders there thronged to welcome him." The beautiful story of Chinese civilisation takes u-turn after the great geographical discovery and the global interchange of materials.

 

Since Tang Dynasty, Chinese porcelain trade was spread to Europe, Asia and Africa. But before that, Chinese porcelain had never entered the American continent and the Oceania archipelago.

 

Even in Afro-Eurasia, due to the long distance to Europe, Chinese porcelain never really met Europeans' needs. But this situation completely changed from the late 15th century to 16th century.

 

"The change started from the great geographical discovery of Europe. Before Christmas in 1497, the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, bypassing the Cape of Good Hope, led his fleet and finally arrived in the African coast of the western Indian Ocean. On 20th May 1498, he reached the large commercial port Calicut in southern India.

 

This meant that as long as he passed through the Strait of Malacca, he could enter the South China Sea, landed China and traded with China directly," she revealed. Another route was established by Spanish navigator Columbus.

 

He sailed across the Atlantic four times since 1492 and reached the American continent. From October 1519 on, it took the Spanish navigator Magellan one year to reach American continent.

 

And then he passed through the strait connecting Atlantic and Pacific (the Strait of Magellan) and entered the Pacific ocean, which was unknown by Europeans before. In March 1521, Magellan's fleet reached the Philippines, not far from Taiwan.

 

With Taiwan as a springboard, it was easy to reach the coastal ports like Quanzhou, Xiamen and to trade with China. During 1514-1516, Portuguese ships reached Guangdong for the first time.

 

Since 1540, the ships appeared in Fujian, and then reached Japan after 1542. In 1543, the Spanish reached the seas of eastern Asia; in 1553, the Portuguese obtained rights of habitation in Macau.

 

Since then, Europeans could finally possess the beautiful blue-and-white porcelain directly from Chinese, which they had wished for long time. At that time, the Europe was experiencing the Renaissance.

 

The revolutionary movement of culture and thought needed all aspects of enlightening and cultural resources. Overlooking the great empire of the East - China, the Europe was full of imagination and longing: with prevailing study, Confucian ethics and human relations, China was an advanced model that could provide experience of development for Europe.

 

But because of the inconvenience of traffic and barriers of language in the 16th and 17th centuries, the mutual understandings between the East and the West were full of mystical speculation.

 

While large numbers of blue-and-white porcelain began to be exported to Europe from the 16th century, the Europeans had a more direct understanding of the distant China.

 

So the Europeans thought the blue-and-white porcelain was the best gift that China gave to the Renaissance. According to Prof Lili, porcelain now is a very common material product, but the invention of porcelain is a great contribution that Chinese have made to the world.

 

The introduction of Chinese porcelain has changed the life styles, hygiene habits and cultural etiquette of many places. As for the change of life styles, before the introduction of Chinese porcelain, some countries in Southeast Asia had no ideal and proper dinnerware. Some of them used leaves as today's bowls, and abandoned them after use.

 

As soon as the porcelain was introduced to the countries, this healthy, practical and easy-to-clean product was widely accepted as ideal and proper dinnerware.

 

The common households in Southeast Asian countries used Chinese tile urns to hold meals. Those places were relatively poor and backward, so the coarse porcelain produced in China's coastal areas was sold there.

 

Africa: China's Pottery Trade On the 'Belt and Road', World Civilisation (Part IV)17 JULY 2016

In this final part of the series, Prof Fang Lili, who is a member of National Committee of experts for China intangible culture heritage protection and Director of Art Anthropology of China Academy of Arts, helps us to understand how China civilisation crossed the world. Our Correspondent, Iddi Mwema, among other things, highlights some of the contributions of other nations in China enriched culture.

 

The introduction of porcelain also changed Europeans' life styles. Before the 17th century, the spoons, cups, plates were very rare in Europe, so people shared tableware when having meals.

 

According to the genre paintings at that time we can see, it was common that a group of people shared a cup, a bowl, a plate and a spoon at the table. The etiquette handbook instructed that "before drinking, remember to clean your mouth and hands with cloth so that you will not make the cups dirty, or people at the table would not like to dine with you."

 

When it was common that Chinese porcelain stayed on Europeans' tables, the dietary habit of sharing tableware began to disappear from the upper class. At the same time, the sanitation concept and social etiquette were also changed.

 

The whole set of Chinese porcelain tableware not only delimited the dinning space for everyone and drove everyone to interact with each other mannerly, but also changed the key point of table manners from "how to use shared tableware" to "how to use knives and forks to eat beef correctly."

 

The table culture of one using a whole set of tableware made Europeans' dietary culture more elegant and healthier. Porcelain is also a kind of ritual supply in a culture. When it reached Japan, Chinese porcelain, with tea and Zen, formed Japanese tea culture. Until today, Japan still follows the tea culture formed in Tang and Song Dynasties. Before offering the tea to guests, persons use a bamboo whisk to stir the tea paste in the water and make it a green tea soup.

 

The whole process and skill was time-consuming, with a lot of work and about thirty kinds of tea sets, it became the central focus of tea culture. The tea break is very popular in Japan, often accompanied by game and Japanese sake.The elegant and quiet tea room is a separate space, and also used for flower appreciation, poetry writing and fragrance-smelling competition. The necessities in the tea space are screens with paintings, scroll paintings, porcelain bottles, bronze incense burner and colorful brocade.

 

The necessities and the people who use them form the tea culture. This kind of culture was Chinese culture in Tang and Song Dynasties, which had disappeared in China, but was saved completely in Japan. And now, it is a typical traditional Japanese culture.

 

Moreover, Chinese Porcelain influenced the religions in Southeast Asia and African Tribes. "Porcelain was not only used in daily life, but also had cultural-symbolic meanings. Some areas in Southeast Asia were indigenous tribes when Chinese porcelain arrived.

 

So, coming from a higher culture, porcelain was endowed with mystery by the aboriginal inhabitants," said Prof Lili. According to her, Chinese porcelain was used on witchcraft ceremonies, holding offerings or dancing with it. It was also used to treat illnesses with magical figures and water in it. Not only in Southeast Asia, in some African countries, people also endowed Chinese porcelain with divinity, they decorated city gates, walls and columns of tombs with blueand- white porcelain.

 

On the side of European countries, Prof Lili said, since the first time of entering Asian market and doing business with Chinese, Europeans imported Chinese porcelain fanatically, which revealed their admiration and envy to China since they read Marco Polo. At that time, the entire upper class of Europe were proud of owning Chinese porcelain, meanwhile, because of large purchase of Chinese porcelain, tea, lacquer ware and so on, European silver coins entered China.

 

"From 1571 to 1821, half of the 400 million silver coins imported from South America and Mexico were used to purchase Chinese products, including porcelain, and due to the lack of silver coins, King Louis 14th melted large number of silver ware in his palace to buy Chinese porcelain," she said. The destruction of silver tableware led silver to China and took the tableware of Chinese porcelain to Europe, adding, Europeans loved Chinese porcelain so much that this situation was called "craze for Chinese porcelain" at that time.

 

The "craze" actually showed the first wave of the highest respect to the culture of the oldest empire from Europe at that time. Chinese porcelain started to experience challenges during the industrial revolution and discovery of sea routes to Asia and America through a Cape of Good Hope. "For centuries, Jingdezhen, which was known as the porcelain capital in the world, had dominated the porcelain industry.

 

But now, it has an invincible rival. Jingdezhen represented the peak of handicraft before the industrial revolution. However, all the advantages disappeared after 1800 when machines replaced hands, intensification and large-scale production replaced decentralization, and the discovery of the American continent together with the opening of the sea routes to Indies via the Cape of Good Hope era of diversity finally arrived," explained Director of Art Anthropology of China Academy of Arts.

 

Right because of the two major events, Europe began to become the centre of the world. It opened up the global sea routes, implanted European style society into southern and northern America, made most of Asia its colony, shaped new economic and political system, and finally accelerated and dominated the formation of modern times.

 

In this process, Chinese porcelain lost its overseas markets and the cultural competitiveness in China. For a long time, westerners did not really worship Chinese porcelain, but Chinese culture and etiquette system. When the westerners did not admire them anymore, Chinese porcelain was abandoned by the west world.

 

Although China once dominated the sea and contributed its tea, silk, porcelain and so on to the world, the outstanding achievement and work was often disregarded by Chinese scholars, for China was a country which valued agriculture and neglected business trade. Because of such a concept, the porcelain trade which represented Chinese business culture could not compete with Europeans who valued business culture highly. "This was a match between "yellow" and "blue" cultures.

 

Europe represented blue culture, and China represented yellow culture. In Chinese history and porcelain trade history, we can see that China had been in a rival relationship between "yellow China" and "blue China" for a long time. I think that although China tended to value agriculture and neglect business for a long time, the "yellow" and "blue" civilizations always coexisted," she said.

 

While Chinese retreated from the sea, the Europeans began the geographical discovery, then the meeting of the East and the West led to a dramatic change in the setup of the world. The former obeyed the power centre which took land as the basis.

 

The latter developed business on the sea backed up by military force. And at last, the latter won the game. The result is still a knot for Chinese, which makes them believe China has only history of yellow civilization, but no blue civilization.

 

"But today, when we face the region of the Belt and Road, we can see the blue China was as strong as the yellow China in the history. Our ancestors once opened up the world-famous land and maritime silkroad with camels and ships, and later many foreigners appeared on the Road, but then Chinese dared not go any further, and closed the nation's gate. In the end, the outsiders opened our gate with gunfire, and once made China a semicolonial country.

 

Nowadays, with increasing development of economy, China not only has opened the gate, but will set out again also. "We need to look back at the history, which was the way from the past to today, to find our instructions.

 

I think the history is not dead, but active, while sometimes we do not realize its existence and vitality. Therefore, we need to understand and wake up the history to 

 

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