Ancient Links between China and Africa Explored

Monday, November 10, 2014

With funding from the Confucius Institute Headquarters Division of Sinology and China Studies, Dr Ian McIntosh, Director of International Partnerships at IUPUI hosted the international conference, "Exploring China's Ancient Links to Africa" in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on October 29-31.

Some of the world's leading archaeologists in this field, including Felix Chami of Dar es Salaam University, Tanzania, Jacqueline Phillips of the School of Oriental and African Studies, UK, and Wensuo Liu of Sun Yat-sen University, China, were in attendance.

Sponsors of the conference included Ethiopia’s Aksum University, the Confucius Institute in Indianapolis, and Past Masters International. “This conference shed a great deal of light on the journeys of Chinese navigators and traders as well as their relationship with African merchants, especially from the Axumite Empire in what is today Eritrea and Ethiopia and also as far south as the famed metropolis of Rhapta in Tanzania,” McIntosh said.

Participants at the conference spoke on old Chinese coin and pottery finds from along the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa and also in East Africa, dating to the Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties. Daniele Petrella of the International Research Institute for Archaeology and Ethnology spoke of his discovery of the sunken fleet of Kublai Khan during the attempt to invade Japan in 1281. Ralph Pedersen of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M spoke of his discoveries at Black Assarca Island in the Red Sea, and Mebrahtom Mesfin of Aksum University spoke of the wonders of the ancient Axumite civilization, which had economic ties with Phoenicians, Byzantines, Romans, Egyptians, Indians, and the Chinese.

One of the goals of the conference was to build an international network of scholars united in the common search to undercover details of the ancient maritime silk route from East- and South-East Asia to the Middle East and Africa. It was proposed that the research papers be published and that plans be made for a follow up conference perhaps in Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar, where Romans are known to have traded as early as the first century of the Common Era.

The conference was filmed by CCTV (China Central Television) and attended by various dignitaries, including the Italian ambassador to Ethiopia and the EU Representative to the African Union.