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Bruce Wannell to speaks on "Ancient Persia: A Cultural Cradle of China?" Mr Wannell, a world expert on Persia and modern Iran, discusses the surprisingly rich cultural interaction, from architecture, religion to trade, between the great civilisations of Persia and China over a period of over a millennium. He concludes the lecture with a discussion of the intriguing culture of modern Iran.
As early as the mid-7th Century the Persian Sasanian nobility fled the advancing Arab armies to seek refuge in the Tang dynasty capital of Chang'an, bringing with them their embossed silver and also their habits of hunting with hawks, which were rapidly absorbed into Chinese culture. Later, Persian Soghdian merchants plied their trade deep into China, while medieval Persian sailors pursued profit on the navigation routes already developed by the Sasanians. When Ibn Battuta visited China in the 14th Century, he found Persian songs being sung on the pleasure boats.
Exports of cobalt from Persia stimulated the development of the blue and white porcelain of the Ming dynasty, helped by the unification of trade routes in the Mongol dynasty. Meanwhile Buddhism became, for almost 50 years, the official religion of Persia and various Chinese cultural patterns were introduced, from dragons and curling loud-bands, to Buddhist scholars who studied with Sufis and scholars at the Mongol court in Tabriz in Persia.
The Persian King Shah Rukh sent an embassy from Herat to Peking at the time of its inauguration as the Ming capital. The embassy included Shah Rukh's son, Ulgh Beg, governor of Samarkand and a passionate astronomer. His astronomical tables, the Zij, remained the most authoritative for centuries and were used at the Radcliffe Observatory at Oxford University as well as at the Imperial Observatory in Peking until the 19th Century.
The architectural glories of Persia, for which the country is perhaps most famous, used glazed ceramic tiles, which reached a peak of brilliance under the Taimuri and Safavi dynasties of the 15th to 17th Centuries. Miniature painting reflected initially Byzantine influence, but rapidly came under the influence of Chinese pictorial traditions. Persian carpets and rugs, however, were the principal export of Persia for some two millenia. They reached their zenith with the Ardabil Carpet, with 26 million knots, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and spread all over China, spawning the once huge Chinese carpet-making industry.
Bruce Wannell read modern languages at Oriel College, Oxford. Subsequently, he grew interested in the Iranian and Islamic world, living and traveling in Iran and Afghanistan for several years, and is now a world expert on the region. He has travelled widely, teaching at Isfahan University, Iran in the 1970s and working with refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan in the 1980s, as well as lecturing on Iran and Central Asia, Pakistan and India, Ethiopia and Eastern Africa, the Levant and North Africa during the last decade. He has published on Persian poetry and Islamic mysticism, as well as inscriptions in Kabul and Herat, Afghanistan and the Deccan, India. He has also translated historical sources from Indo-Persian for Cambridge and other universities. Mr Wannell has written several programmes for the Pushtu and Persian Services of the BBC World Service, as well as giving frequent lectures at universities internationally on the history, architecture, music, ethnic groups and traditional practices of Afghanistan and Iran.