Cosmopolitanism in the Tang Dynasty

A Chinese Ceramic Figure

of a Sogdian Wine-Merchant

by Suzanne G. Valenstein

This research monograph investigates the aspects of a large Tang dynasty (618–907) porcelaneous mortuary figure of an ethnic Sogdian that belongs to a small, cohesive group of Chinese ceramic figures depicting foreign wine merchants. As key merchants on the famous “Silk Road,” the Sogdians, an Eastern Iranian people, played a significant role in China’s exposure to Western cultures. The interaction among the Chinese, the Sogdians, and the Turkic Eurasian nomads left an indelible mark on Tang China as well. Various decorative motifs on the present figure and its analogous examples are traced both chronologically and geographically to their origins. Most of these motifs can be found in the West and most can also be associated with Buddhism, which came to China by way of Central Asia.

Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that "This lavishly illustrated work is a tour de force study...  By assiduously tracing the origins and parallels of the motifs, the author is able to explicate the Eurasian wide cultural connections that they embody...  This is a signal publication for anyone who is interested in Sogdians, Turks, the history of wine, mortuary figures, and ceramic technology during the medieval period."

About the Author 

Suzanne G. Valenstein is currently a research scholar at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is retired from the Metropolitan’s department of Asian art, where she was curator of Chinese ceramics for thirty-five years.