James D. Frankel. Muslim Blue, Chinese White: Islamic Calligraphy on Ming Blue-and-white Porcelain
Nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, the world is witnessing a global pivot toward Asia in international affairs. Meanwhile, China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is predicated upon the global importance of mutually beneficial relations between China and its westward neighbours, a vast proportion of whom are Muslims. The success of the initiative, with its economic and political aspirations, depends on bringing together people of diverse cultures, evoking the history of ancient commercial overland and maritime trade networks, romantically imagined as the ‘Silk Roads’. Beyond the trade of precious commodities, these networks served as a nexus for an inter-civilizational exchange of ideas: technological, cultural, philosophical, religious and artistic. Within this metanarrative we find one of the legacies of this exchange—works of art produced in imperial China for Islamic taste, made for both domestic Muslim patronage and export to the Islamic world.