Incense burner with inscription
of Hsiao Sung Tse Tsao
Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368)
|National Palace Museum
Nomadic Waves and
Cultural Exchange on the Inner Mongolian Steppe
The Chinese province of Inner Mongolia is a place of vast grasslands and boundless skies. For thousands of years, this mystical land has served as a home for successive waves of diverse nomadic cultures. Covering an area of 1,183,000 square kilometers, the steppes of Inner Mongolia have a human history that stretches back to Paleolithic times.
Although the north China and Mongolian steppe are associated in popular imagination most readily with horse-riding nomads, the practice of a nomadic, animal herding lifestyle in the region is actually a comparatively recent development. The earliest evidence of human habitation dates back to the Tayao Culture some 70,000 years ago. Traces of agricultural activity can be found as early as 6,000 B.C. Evidence of nomadic life only begins to appear around the start of the 1st millennium, about 3000 years ago.
The earliest nomadic peoples to appear in the Chinese historical record were the Tung-hu and the Hsiung-nu. Following them were the Wu-huan, Hsien-pei, T'u-chueh, Khitan, and Mongols. These names represent a variety of tribal groups and confederacies that successively dominated large areas of steppeland along the north China frontier. Some became exceptionally powerful, and exerted a powerful influence on the course of Chinese history. The Hsien-pei ruled over much of north China during the period of political division known as the Six Dynasties (A.D. 220 - 589). In the 10th century, the Khitan built a large empire along the northern border of China that stretched from Manchuria to northwest China. The most famous group of all were the Mongols, who in the 13th century not only conquered all of China, but also swept across Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, establishing the largest contiguous land empire in human history.
The agricultural empires of China erected the Great Wall as a barrier against these nomadic peoples. Over the centuries, the wall not only served as a physical line of demarcation, but also as an intellectual barrier for historians, who confined the stage of Chinese history to the regions south of the Great Wall. However, when this artificial barrier is removed from our minds, we are presented with a much broader and more complex view of long-standing cultural, artistic, and political exchange between China and her northern neighbors. This visiting exhibition of archeological and other art treasures from Inner Mongolia offers visitors a chance to gain a better understanding of the historical cultures of the north China steppe, the nature of their relationship with China, and the role that they played in the greater history of Asian art and culture.
|Oct - Dec, 2000 Issue Museum Previous Issues|