China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Imported Glass Ware as Northern Wei Collector’s Piece

Friday, July 6
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Jacaranda I, First Floor

On view in the Shanxi Museum is a glass bowl found in one of the Northern Wei period (4th c. CE—6th c. CE) tombs excavated in the southern suburbs of Datong city, Shanxi province. 7.5 cm tall and 10.3 cm wide in diameter, the outer surface of the glass bowl was polished to form a pattern of oval convex indentations that can be aligned both horizontally and vertically. The bottom of the bowl bears the design of seven larger convex indentations, giving the bowl a rounded base. Though excavated from a Northern Wei tomb in Datong, this glass bowl’s provenance has been identified as a drinking vessel of the Sassanid Persians.


As a luxury item in the Wei-Jin period, glassware was imported from Rome and much sought after by the Chinese elite. These were considered to be of a much higher quality than locally made colored-glaze (liuli 琉璃) ware, cast in a mold. No later than the Northern Wei period, Roman glass-blowing technique had been introduced into China, which became a popular method of producing Chinese colored-glaze ware hereafter. Even though domestic production of colored-glaze became widespread in the Northern Wei, to the extent of being applied on palatial architectural pieces, archaeological findings and textual sources contribute to our understanding that foreign imports of glassware became even more sought after by the Chinese elite. This paper aims to look at how imported glassware became a Northern Wei collector’s piece – its prestige derived from its rarity and unobtainability.

Chin-Yin Tseng

Dunhuang Academy, China

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3 - Imported Glass Ware as Northern Wei Collector’s Piece



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