Silk Road also brought plants and animals
The ancient Silk Road was an important route for the transport of Chinese silk, tea and porcelain to other countries about 2,000 years ago.
An abundance of animals and plants were also introduced from the West, enriching life for the Chinese people in ancient times.
Foreign envoys brought their local animals and plants as gifts to the royal court, while merchants traveled for thousands of miles to sell them in China.
Around 200 antiques with animal and plant themes are on display at the China National Silk Museum through September 5. Visitors can see the harmonious integration of different cultures, nations, species and people through the exhibits.
"The exchange of different species reached its heyday during the Han (206 BC-AD 220) and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties, largely increasing species' diversity, promoting cultural inclusiveness and broadening people's horizons in China," said Zhao Feng, curator of the museum.
Exotic "heavenly horses" and camels dominated the animals that were introduced nearly 2,000 years ago. They later developed as the primary transport along the Silk Road.
One highlight at the exhibition is a Han Dynasty copper horse sculpture on loan from the Maoling Museum in Shaanxi Province. It is believed to be a heavenly horse from the ancient Dayuan Kingdom, today's Ferghana Valley, in central Asia.
The Han Dynasty was strongly attracted by the tall and powerful horses in possession of the Dayuan Kingdom. The royal court imported a large number of heavenly horses to strengthen the military power.
Camels were not common in ancient China until the Silk Road formed in the Han Dynasty. According to historical documents, a cavalcade of camels entered the present-day Henan and Shaanxi provinces, evolving into the pillar of local transportation.
The exhibition has a tri-colored glazed pottery camel fired in the Tang Dynasty and ancient bricks painted with camel patterns made in the Southern and Northern Dynasty (AD 420-589), indicating the importance of camels at the time.
In efforts to build a friendly relationship with the Han and Tang dynasties, ambassadors from the West brought lions, elephants, rhinoceros, parrots and peacocks as tributes. The Imperial Shanglin Garden was built to raise these exotic animals.
According to archives, the garden was expanded in the Tang Dynasty but later turned to ruin in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
A Tang Dynasty copper mirror on display is shaped like a lotus flower and engraved with peacock patterns, reflecting the exchange of species among different nations. The superb skills of craftspeople can be seen in its smooth lines and sophisticated patterns.
Copper was made into mirrors for daily use during the period. Mirrors with auspicious lines and creatures were also used as objects to ward off evil. At the exhibition, visitors can see mirrors carved with exotic grapes, rhinoceros and parrots.
Museum experts have spent years working on textiles unearthed along the Silk Road, unveiling ancient burial etiquette and clothing. The exhibition displays brocade fragments embroidered with camels, lions and elephants.
Exhibition organizers have set up food stalls to create an environment as if they were wandering on the streets of ancient Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty (today's Xi'an in Shaanxi Province), which was considered the largest and most prosperous city at the time.
Its layout, buildings and facilities were far ahead of their time and had a major influence on other countries. Besides its booming economy, Chang'an was also an exchange center for exotic produce.
Visitors can linger over stalls featuring wine, nuts, vegetables and fruits, imagining the prosperity of ancient Chang'an.
Cucumbers, grapes, peas and spinach are common today. However, ancient Chinese had never tasted them before the Han Dynasty. The cultivation of these plants was attributed to Zhang Qian, a diplomat who served as an imperial envoy to the world outside China.
His mission opened up China to many parts of the world then unknown to the Chinese, and he brought back many seeds to enrich Chinese people's food.
Flavors from the Middle East also found favor with ancient Chinese with those introduced to China including agalwood, storax, patchouli and benzoin.
Dried fruit and nuts were popular across Chang'an. Raisins, dates, pine nuts and almonds added flavor to Chinese cuisine.
Foreign merchants also opened stores to sell baked snacks and wine.
'Plants and Animals on the Silk Road' Exhibition
Date: Through September 5, closed on Mondays
Address: 73-1 Yuhuangshan Rd