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From pearls to porcelain - the ties that bind us to China: paper

posted on 14/12/2015: 1106 views



As His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, begins an official visit to China today to bolster UAE-China relations, a report published in The National newspaper this morning said that links between China and the UAE are not new, but date back over 2,000 years.

In a comment piece entitled, "From pearls to porcelain: the ties that bind us to China", Peter Hellyer, a consultant specialising in the UAE's history and culture, said that by around 250BC, Chinese goods were already arriving in Arabia by sea. "By 2,000 years ago, it is believed, ships were sailing to China from Dibba, commanded by captains who had already mastered the skills that enabled them to sail from west to east and back," he said.

Today, the UAE is the Asian giant's largest trading partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade this year expected to hit US$54.8 billion.

Below is the article in full:

"From pearls to porcelain: the ties that bind us to China Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, begins an official visit to China today that will provide a major boost to UAE-China relations. The UAE is the Asian giant's largest trade partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade this year expected to hit US$54.8 billion, compared to only $63 million in 1985, a year after diplomatic relations were established. More than 200,000 Chinese now live here, with half a million tourists visiting last year, and the UAE is a focal point in Beijing's "One Belt, One Road" strategy to revitalise the old Silk Roads that connect East and West.

These links between China and what we now know as the UAE are not new, however. They date back over 2,000 years. By around 250BC, Chinese goods were already arriving in Arabia by sea. By 2,000 years ago, it is believed, ships were sailing to China from Dibba, commanded by captains who had already mastered the skills that enabled them to sail from west to east and back.

By the 7th century AD, according to one estimate, there were up to 100,000 Arabs and Persians living in the port of Canton (Guangzhou). Chinese Muslim tradition holds that it was there, around 632AD, that Islam first arrived in China, brought, by sea, by Sa'd Ibn Abi Waqqas, an uncle of the Prophet.

By this time, Gulf pearls were already in demand in China. In later years, during the Sung and Yuan dynasties, the imperial coffers benefited substantially from the taxes levied upon them. The trade in pearls, exported from ports like Hormuz in southern Iran, and Julfar (modern-day Ras al-Khaimah), was to continue for centuries.

The trade in goods also went in the other direction, for pottery from the Tang period, from 618AD to 906AD, has been found in the southern Gulf. Porcelain and other ceramics have featured in the trading relationship ever since.

Such trade affected even the poorest Gulf residents. On the island of Sir Bani Yas, for example, a temporary fishermen's encampment, dated to around the 15th or 16th centuries, has produced fragments of imported Ming pottery.

In the early 15th century, the great Chinese admiral Zheng He, himself a Muslim, made seven voyages into the Indian Ocean. One reached down the East African coast to Mombasa and beyond. His fleets were huge: the 1405AD fleet, which reached India, is said to have included 27,800 men and 62 treasure ships, with 190 smaller vessels.

Between 1413 and 1433, Zheng came on four occasions to the Arab-ruled kingdom of Hormuz, of which Julfar was a part. Trade goods exchanged, of course, included both porcelain and pearls. The impact of these visits on local mercantile and cultural life must have been enormous.

A change of emperor brought an end to these expeditions but Gulf sea-captains continued to sail to China. Their navigational skills are documented in the works of the UAE's greatest navigator, Ahmed Ibn Majid, also known as the "Lion of the Sea" and born in Ras al-Khaimah in 1421.

At the end of the 15th century, the first Portuguese ships, much smaller than those of Zheng He, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and made their way to India.

In the years that followed, Portugal, and then other European powers like the English, the Dutch and the French, gained control over the maritime trade routes. Chinese fleets came no more – the centuries of Arab domination of Indian Ocean trade came to an end.

From the porcelain found on archaeological sites throughout this country as well as in the records of international trade over the last 400 years, however, it is evident that the commercial links between China and the UAE continued.

The recent development of UAE-China relations, a fundamental element of the "One Belt, One Road" strategy, holds out the promise of a continued revival of this ancient, and long-forgotten, relationship." – Emirates News Agency, WAM - http://www.wam.ae/en/news/emirates/1395289141041.html

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