These three books must be read for a better understanding of the context of the treasures of the Shosoin, and of how Tang China shaped Japanese thinking and culture, beginning with its age of sending of envoys. The Japanese missions to Tang China (遣唐使, called Kentōshi) were carried out in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Between 607 and 838, Japan sent 19 missions to China. For more on the missions, see “Japanese missions to Tang China”
Edward H. Schafer (Author)
In the seventh century the kingdom of Samarkand sent formal gifts of fancy yellow peaches, large as goose eggs and with a color like gold, to the Chinese court at Ch’ang-an. What kind of fruit these golden peaches really were cannot now be guessed, but they have the glamour of mystery, and they symbolize all the exotic things longed for, and unknown things hoped for, by the people of the T’ang empire.
This book examines the exotics imported into China during the T’ang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), and depicts their influence on Chinese life. Into the land during the three centuries of T’ang came the natives of almost every nation of Asia, all bringing exotic wares either as gifts or as goods to be sold. Ivory, rare woods, drugs, diamonds, magicians, dancing girls–the author covers all classes of unusual imports, their places of origin, their lore, their effort on costume, dwellings, diet, and on painting, sculpture, music, and poetry.
This book is not a statistical record of commercial imports and medieval trade, but rather a “humanistic essay, however material its subject matter.”
Reviewed by Susan Swhartz:
The Most Gorgeous Work of Scholarship I’ve Ever Read
In the course of acquiring a PhD and writing about 25 books, I’ve encountered a LOT of scholarly works, but never one as richly textured, evocative, and just plain beautiful as THE GOLDEN PEACHES OF SAMARKAND. It lives up to its title, which is a hard enough act to follow, and takes readers through the splendor and tragedy of T’ang Dynasty China, including the revolt of An Lushan (Rokshan).
He has another book out, THE VERMILION BIRD, which deals with Southeast Asia.
Pacing the Void: T’Ang Approaches to the Stars
The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens in T’Ang Literature