L. Dancer. R. Black Gate Keeper   (c. 618 - 900)
Maker:  TANG Anonymous (618 - 909)
©Kathleen Cohen
California State University IMAGE Project
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The Tang court was one of the most truly cosmopolitan centers in the ancient world. Its enormous empire contained a large number of so-called "barbarians": Turks, Uighers, Persians and Hindus. During the 7th century some two hundred thousand Persians, Arabs, Indians, Malays and others lived in Guangzhou as traders, artisans and metalworkers.

The ruling family, who was itself part Turkish, could not suppress its curiosity about foreigners. However, following the old Chinese belief that they were the only civilized people, they were also suspicious of these foreigners and alternately emulated and persecuted them.

Foreign entertainers were popular in the Tang court, like the juggler on the left whose garments and jewelry style reveal his Indian or South East Asian origin. The young man on the right, depicted with black skin and tight curls, may represent an African. We know that Tang traders went by ship along the South China coast around India and as far as Africa, and it is quite probable that some Africans made the journey to the Middle Kingdom. According to the records of one Tang customs official, some must have come as slaves: "[In the west] there is an island in the sea on which there are many savages. Their bodies are as black as lacquer and they have frizzled hair. They are enticed by {offers of} food and then captured and sold as slaves to Arabic countries, where they fetch a very high price. They are employed as gatekeepers..." Although there was no shortage of Chinese people who were slaves, it was said that "most of the wealthy people" in Guangzhou preferred to have Africans as gatekeepers.