The Medieval Garden of the Humble Administrator in Suzhou, China

Designed at human scale, Chinese gardens are meant to be comfortable, intriguing, and pleasing at every turn. Introduction Extensive gardens are recorded in China from the third century B.C.E. onward. The scholar’s garden is often considered the most complete expression of the Chinese garden, especially in the late Ming (1573-1644) and Qing dynasties (1616-1911). These[…]

Temujin: The Reign of Genghis Khan, 1206-1227

Genghis Khan built the foundations of an empire which would ultimately control one-fifth of the globe. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Genghis Khan (aka Chinggis Khan, c. 1162/67-1227 CE) was the founder of the Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) which he would rule from 1206 until his death in 1227 CE. Born Temujin, he acquired the title[…]

The China of the Jesuits

The history of the Society of Jesus’ first missions is a story of great journeys. Abstract During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many reports and travel narratives helped to create a more positive image of China around the world. The remarkable efforts of the Society of Jesus were essential to this new view, thanks to[…]

The Early Modern European Palaces of the Qianlong Emperor

These works represent an artistic encounter between East and West. A Controversial Auction In 2009, two eighteenth-century Chinese bronze sculptures — one representing a rat’s head and the other a rabbit’s — sold at a Christie’s auction in Paris for $40.4 million. Soon afterwards, the art world watched, stunned, as the winning bidder, Cai Mingchao,[…]

Woodblock Prints of Domestic ‘Westernization’ in Asia, 1868-1912

In the 19th and early-20th centuries, Japan, among the major countries of Asia, escaped colonial or neo-colonial domination by the United States and expansionist nations of Europe. Introduction What does it mean to speak of people, cultures, or nations responding to “the challenge of the Western world”?  What does “Westernization” involve in concrete practice? Beginning[…]

Woodblock Prints of the Sino-Japanese War, 1894-1895

The Sino-Japanese War provided something very new—a modern and highly mechanized war against a foreign foe. Prints and Propaganda The Sino-Japanese War began in July 1894 and ended in China’s shattering defeat in April 1895. It involved battles on land and sea; began with fighting in Korea that spilled over the Yalu River into Manchuria;[…]

Early Evidence of Cannabis Smoking Found on Chinese Artifacts

The findings are some of the earliest evidence of cannabis used as a drug. People have been smoking pot to get high for at least 2,500 years. Chinese archaeologists found signs of that when they studied the char on a set of wooden bowls from an ancient cemetery in western China. The findings are some[…]

Trade, Diplomacy, and Transformation in China in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Exploring how China’s economic and diplomatic ties to the outside world shaped its modern history. Introduction For centuries, China’s encounters with the foreign lands and peoples involved the commercial exchange of goods. The Chinese attitude towards trade viewed it as desirable, within a structured and regulated framework. Prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic[…]

The Sacrificial Puppies of the Shang Dynasty

A new study suggests young dogs were frequently buried with humans in China some 3,000 years ago, but the precise reasons remain elusive. By Joshua Rapp Learn During the last centuries of China’s Shang dynasty, which lasted from 1600 B.C. to 1050 B.C., ritual sacrifice was a well-oiled cultural phenomenon, rich and varied in its[…]

China and Hong Kong in the Canton Trade System

After their victory in the first Opium War, the British acquired Hong Kong under the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. Hong Kong held 3,000 Chinese scattered in small fishing villages until the mid 19th century. The city itself is a small island in the mouth of the Pearl River, 76 miles southeast of Canton. Its waterfall[…]

The Narrow World of the Artists of China’s Early Modern Canton Trade System

The new vistas of China available after the development of the East India trade attracted many Chinese and foreign artists. John Webber (1750–1793) accompanied Captain Cook on his third voyage to the South Seas and visited Macau in 1779, publishing his book Views in the South Seas in 1780. Thomas Daniell (1749–1840) and his nephew[…]

Ancient and Medieval China’s Silk Road

The European explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324 CE) traveled on these routes and described them in depth in his famous work. Introduction The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes, formally established during the Han Dynasty of China, which linked the regions of the ancient world in commerce between 130 BCE-1453 CE. As the Silk Road was not[…]

Ancient Chinese Alchemy

Chinese alchemists developed methods for manipulating minerals and altering the state of substances. Introduction Most of us are familiar with parts of the history of alchemy; the stories of the Philosopher’s Stone and turning base metal into gold have diffused into mainstream films and books. These tales evoke visions of grey bearded men at the royal court[…]

Ancient Korean and Chinese Relations

Contact between Korea and China goes back to mythology and prehistory. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Contact between Korea and China goes back to mythology and prehistory. Trade developed from the Bronze and Iron Ages with raw materials and manufactured goods going in both directions for centuries thereafter. In addition to traders, migrants came, beginning with[…]

Ancient Chinese Warfare: Confucianism and Absence of Glory

The absence of a glorification of war in China was largely due to Confucian philosophy and literature. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction In ancient China warfare was a means for one region to gain ascendancy over another, for the state to expand and protect its frontiers, and for usurpers to replace an existing dynasty of rulers.[…]

The Most Popular Gods and Goddesses of Ancient China

There were over 200 gods and goddesses worshipped throughout ancient China, but if one were to count every deity or spirit, the number would be over 1,000. By Emily MarkHistorian Introduction There were over 200 gods and goddesses worshipped throughout ancient China, but if one were to count every deity or spirit, the number would be[…]

Fook Shing: Colonial Victoria’s Chinese Detective

Fook Shing spent 20 years as a Melbourne gumshoe. He policed the thriving Chinese community – claiming opium as an expense – but was never promoted above his entry rank of detective third class. On July 25 1882, Inspector Frederick Secretan, the head of Victoria Police’s Detective Branch, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. In the[…]

The Second Opium War and the Treaty of Tianjin, 1857–1859

The United States and European powers had grown increasingly dissatisfied with treaties following the First Opium War. Following the First Opium War in the 1840s, the Western powers concluded a series of treaties with China in an effort to open its lucrative markets to Western trade. In the 1850s, the United States and the European[…]

The First Opium War and the Treaty of Wangxia, 1839–1844

Western powers tried to gain unfettered access to Chinese products and markets for European and U.S. trade. The Treaty of Wangxia (Wang-hsia) was the first formal treaty signed between the United States and China in 1844. It served as an American counterpart to the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of Nanjing that ended the First Opium War in[…]

The Discovery of Infectious Diseases in 2,000-Year-Old Silk Road Feces

How a research team identified parasites in ‘hygiene sticks’ that travellers on the Silk Road effectively used as their toilet paper. Once travelled by famous historical figures such as Marco Polo and Genghis Khan, the Silk Road was a hugely important network of transport routes connecting eastern China with Central Asia, the Middle East and[…]

The Prehistoric Origins and Historic Growth of the Silk Road

The Silk Road provided a conduit not only for silk, but also offered a very important path for cultural, religious and technological transmission. Introduction The Silk Road was an extensive interconnected network of trade routes across the Asian continent connecting East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean world, including North Africa and Europe. These trade routes enabled[…]

Sacred to Secular: Religion in Ancient and Medieval China

Modern Taoists in China (and elsewhere) worship many gods at private altars and in public ceremonies which originated in the country’s ancient past. By Emily MarkHistorian Introduction Religious practices in ancient China go back over 7,000 years. Long before the philosophical and spiritual teachings of Confucius and Lao-Tzu developed or before the teachings of the Buddha came to China, the people worshipped personifications[…]

John Thomson’s 19th-Century Chinese Treaty-Port Imagery

Westerners were a feature of late-19th-century China, albeit a much smaller presence than Thomson would have us believe. In subscribing to the views and types protocol, Thomson was no different than most 19th-century commercial photographers working in Asia. This simple dichotomy provided a convenient means to organize and present large inventories to potential customers, and[…]

John Thomson’s China, 1873: Reframing the Past

Thomson’s photographic medium possessed qualities that draw the attention of viewers and lay claim to a degree of visual authority. Formats and Picture Size Thomson used three formats for the scenic views in Illustrations of China and Its People. The smallest images (roughly 3.5 in. square) are grouped four to a page; medium sized images[…]

The End of China’s Canton Trade System

Despite their common interests, relations between the foreigners and the Chinese community grew more tense during the early 19th century. Despite their common interests, relations between the foreigners and the Chinese community grew more tense during the early 19th century. The increasing amount of trade and larger number of ships inevitably brought more conflict. The[…]

The Canton Trade System in China in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Canton’s foreign quarter, sited between the city wall and the river, fit comfortably into the classic design of south Chinese cities. Canton Trade Introduction During the passage from Macau up the Pearl River foreigners passed through densely populated agricultural lands and market towns, but they never saw a major city until they reached Guangzhou. We[…]

Garden of Perfect Brightness: The Yuanmingyuan as Imperial Paradise, 1700-1860

The Kangxi emperor created a villa with gardens to the northwest of Beijing which was named the Garden of Joyful Spring. In order to create a private retreat near the Forbidden City but away from its formality, the Kangxi emperor created a villa with gardens to the northwest of Beijing which was named the Garden[…]