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15 Feb 2007 - 13 May 2007

The University Museum and Art Gallery of The University of Hong Kong and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Museum are pleased to present the exhibition "The Silk Road in Inner Mongolia" in which eighty extraordinary artefacts dating from the Tang (618-907) to the Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, including porcelain, glass, gold and silver wares, harnesses and Nestorian Christian items will be on view.

The steppes in northern China have always been home to nomads. From the third century BC onwards, the steppes were dominated by the nomadic tribes of the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Turks, and Qidan respectively. They were, however, eventually conquered by Genghis Khan by 1206. In 1271, Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, became ruler of the empire and adopted the new Chinese dynastic name of "Yuan". For millennia, the steppes nomads traded with people to the west and those who lived on China's central plains, establishing the "Steppe Silk Road". This paved the way for extensive cultural exchanges between East and West.

The Steppe Silk Road is generally used to mean the road crossing the Eurasian steppes which began in Central Asia and eastern Europe in the west, reaching Mongolia and Siberia in the north to the central plains in the south. Around the first century, the northern Xiongnu migrated to the west and this marked the beginnings of the Steppe Silk Road. In the early sixth century, the Turks established the Turkic empire (552-745) and opened up a trade route to Rome. Tight contacts were established between the Turks and Persia, Sogdia and Byzantia. Exhibits include gold and silver Persian wares and a gold Roman coin excavated from Inner Mongolia. During the Tang dynasty (618-907), contact between East and West grew tremendously and Nestorian Christianity was introduced to China in 635. In 845, when Emperor Wuzong suppressed Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity also suffered almost disappearing in the central plains. During the Yuan dynasty, Nestorian Christianity experienced a revival. A Nestorian Christian porcelain plaque included in the exhibition, dating to the Mongolian Khanate period, is the only Nestorian plaque made of porcelain known. Towards the end of the Tang dynasty, the Qidan grew in power and established the Liao dynasty (916-1125). The production of ceramics flourished during the Liao dynasty and representative wares such as cockscomb flasks, phoenix-head ewers and Liao sancai can be viewed. The Mongols founded the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) and established a vast empire that stretched through Europe and Asia and thus facilitated travel and trading. Trade became more efficient and less dangerous through the northern and southern steppe routes, and along the postal relay roads, which enhanced the cultural interaction between East and West.

The Silk Road of China's northern steppes documents the rise and fall of nomadic tribes, and the relationship, interaction and cultural influences between these tribes and the West. Their arts are not only characterised by their own cultural features, but also by blending the ideas and styles of the West. This illustrates the cultural diversity and uniqueness of China.


Jun ware incense burner 

Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) 

 Height 42.7 cm, diameter at mouth 25.5 cm 


Pair of gold earrings in the form of makara

 Liao dynasty (916-1125)

 Height 4 cm, width 3.7 cm

Grey pottery figure of a foreigner 

 Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) 

 Height 26 cm 

(Photo courtesy of University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong)

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