The Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice organized, together with Peking University, an International Scientific Meeting entitled “Byzantium and China: Relations and Parallels”. The international conference was held in Mystras, on October 2 and 3, 2021.
The conference focused on the long-term Byzantine-Chinese relations, a subject of increasing interest both because of the emerging archaeological evidence as well as the increasing presence of Eurasia on the international geopolitical scene. Trade relations, religious missions, cultural exchanges, spiritual pursuits, and material culture, prove that Byzantium formed the bridge between the peoples of Eurasia and the Western world, launching policies of cooperation and competition, innovating in many fields, responding dynamically to geography and different cultural references.
The keynote speaker, Professor Filippo Ronconi, presented a panorama of the research and literature dedicated to Byzantine-Chinese relations over the last two decades. Comparative studies, migration and climate, cross-border dynamics, were central topics. Until recently, prejudices reflected in terminology but also in each other’s perceptions of the “other”, hindered the rapprochement between the West and the Far East. However, the future is positive, if we consider the rapid growth of interest and publications about Byzantium in China and the current development of programs on this topic.
The conference has already developed two topics that are part of the comparative studies. The joint statement of Prof. Vassilios Koukoussas and Michael Chytiroglou, on the imperial ideology of the medieval states of Byzantium and China as well as the presentation of Prof. Stefanos Kordosis, concerning the development of an interpretive environment around the concept of Ceasar / Khan.
In the same interpretive horizon and on the basis of the latest archaeological discoveries in China regarding the circulation of Byzantine coins, Prof. Guo Yunyan presented their problematic chronological classification and the scope of their use. This problem was accompanied by similar findings, this time Chinese coins of the Tang Dynasty, found in Corinth dating back to the 13th century.
Prof. Pang Guoqing spoke about the study of migratory flows during the Middle Ages, from the Far East to Byzantium. he analyzed, specifically, the statistics of the demographic crisis that struck Byzantium from the 7th to the 9th century and the measures taken to face this crisis.
Dr. Katerina B. Korrè, medieval historian, and Prof. Christos Arambatzis questioned the impact of Byzantine-Chinese relations in the West and specifically in the naval cities of Italy. They described the trade network created between the two empires to bypass the Arab element and tried to answer the question of the role of the Syrian Nestorians on the one hand, in the rapprochement processes of the two empires and on the other hand, in the development of the silk trade. The position of the Nestorians in the Persian Empire of the Sassanids in the 6th century was outlined by Prof. Ioannis Panagiotopoulos. Prof. Lin Lijuan concluded the session with an important presentation of a manuscript, which was the Syrian version of the legend of St. George, which was found in the Turfan area.
Dr. Minqi Chu, presented an original work on the production of paper and manuscripts in Byzantium. On the basis of 11th century Byzantine manuscripts but also on Chinese sources of the time, Dr. Frederick Lauritzen reconstructed the environment of the Chinese embassies in the Byzantine court and the presence in them of the prominent courtier Michael Psellos (1018-1081). The work of the conference was completed with the development of a roadmap for Byzantine-Chinese studies with a future imprint, by Professor Emeritus Michael Kordosis.
The International Conference represented a steady step for the promotion of Greek-Chinese Academic cooperation and laid the foundations for the further scientific dialogue.