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© H. Parsons-Morgan


This year we are excited to announce a special bilingual session in Mandarin and English, which is intended to incorporate a new view on Indian Ocean archaeology and to expand our research community. The session is being led by Professor Derek Kennet and Dr. Ran Zhang, with the assistance of Yiying Li of the organising committee, and will be hybrid, that is it will be in-person and online.

This session has three key aims:


The first is to develop communication between Chinese scholars working on the archaeology of Indian Ocean trade from a Chinese perspective and scholars in other parts of the Indian Ocean, in particular Western scholars working in the western Indian Ocean. Up to the present such communication has been relatively limited.


The second is to explore and try better to understand the degree of Chinese engagement in and influence on Indian Ocean maritime trade through the ages, in particular from the Tang to the Qing periods, in both the western and eastern parts of the Indian Ocean.


A third is to try to improve our chronological resolution of the archaeological deposits from all parts of the Indian Ocean through the study of Chinese trade ceramics. They are a type of ceramic which can often be accurately dated, and are found relatively frequently across the whole Indian Ocean world, and therefore have a potentially important role in helping to co-ordinate chronologies across the whole ocean.


Indian Ocean maritime trade is probably one of the most important and least understood aspects of the medieval world economy. Understanding China’s role in that trade is equally problematic. From an historian’s perspective, the problem is that the key protagonists in that trade, the merchants themselves (whether small-scale itinerant peddlers or large, ship-owning magnates) have left almost no consistent record – at least not before about 1600. 

Archaeological evidence is therefore key. But it is also problematic in many ways. The key problem is that the majority of traded commodities - textiles, spices, foodstuffs, incense, base metals, specie, slaves, timber – do not survive in (or in some cases even enter) the archaeological record. Ceramics are different, but as a generally low-value artefact used for transporting other commodities, ceramics cannot be expected to undergo the same distribution as the main commodities, they can also be difficult to date and provenance accurately. Chinese trade ceramics are different. As a relatively high-value commodity, traded for its own intrinsic value, durable, easily recognisable, relatively precisely dated, and abundant on archaeological sites from Japan to East Africa, they present us with an important chance to gain a clearer insight into some of the questions that surround the mechanisms, practice and development of Indian Ocean maritime trade.


This short session aims to bring together a group of historians, material-culture historians, and archaeologists to discuss aims, questions, concepts and methods in the study of Chinese trade ceramics from around the Indian Ocean.

Speakers for this session are as follows and full details of the session can be found in the Schedule and Programme:

Dr Ran Zhang

Durham University


Dr Derek Kennet

Durham University



Prof Wang Guangyao 

Palace Museum, Beijing


Ms Ruopu Zhai

Durham University


Ms Xiaohang Song 

Durham University


Ms Qinzhe Ai 

Durham University


Mr Shoufei Wang 

Durham University


Prof Anne Gerritsen

Warwick University, Leiden University


Prof Yangwen Zheng

Manchester University


Dr Ronald Po 

London School of Economics 

For any enquiries about this session please email

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