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Porcelain Bowl with Colored Lotus Flower Pattern by Changsha Kiln

Tang Dynasty (618—907AD)

Height: 5.1cm; Diameter at Mouth: 15cm; Diameter at Bottom: 5.7cm

From the Arab dhow, the shipwreck found in Indonesia’s Belitung Island

This porcelain bowl made by Changsha Kiln is designed in wide opening, curved belly and round bottom and decorated with lotus flower pattern and four symmetrically arranged brown speckles. The body of the bowl is glazed in pale green glaze.

At the heart of the bowl there is the pattern of louts’ flower, which is one of the most poignant representations of Buddhism. The lotus is rooted in deep mud and its stem grows through murky water, but the blossom rises above the muck and opens in the sun, beautiful and fragrant. So in Buddhism, the lotus represents the true nature of beings, who rise through samsara into the beauty and clarity of enlightenment. The lotus flower blooming on the bowl reflects the prosperity of Buddhism in Tang Dynasty.

It is confirmed that this bowl is used for tea drinking. Since the cargo is a testament of cultural exchanges and interactions in Asia via the Maritime Silk Route, we can also see the great influence of Chinese tea culture at that time.

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About the Arab dhow

Often referred to as the Belitung Shipwreck, in reference to the nearby Indonesian island, the dhow, approximately 21 feet wide and 58 feet long, is the only vessel of Arab origin ever found in Southeast Asian waters. The goods carried by the ship originated in China and the ship is similar to a type built in the Middle East during the period and for centuries thereafter. The port of departure and destination are unknown, but scholars believe that the ship was bound for the Middle East with a full load of goods from a southern Chinese port, possibly Guangzhou.

This ninth-century shipwreck was discovered in 1998. Its astonishing cargo of about 60,000 objects from Tang dynasty China, ranging from mass-produced ceramics to rare and extraordinary items of finely worked gold, had laid undisturbed on the ocean floor for more than 1,100 years until sea-cucumber divers discovered it off the coast of Indonesia’s Belitung Island. The ship, an Arab dhow, and its contents confirm the existence of a direct maritime trade route (alluded to in ancient Chinese and Arabic texts) from China to the Persian Gulf and beyond—well before the Portuguese set sail in the 15th century.

Treasures found from the Belitung cargo is one of the oldest and most important marine archaeological finds of the late 20th century. The discovery offers scholars and scientists an unprecedented time capsule of knowledge about the period and a wealth of unanswered questions that will fuel research for decades to come.