Chinese history seems a little obscure to people in the west, however its art and trade wares have attracted a great fascination, particularly since Roman times. Arabian writers speak of fleets of large Chinese junks in the Persian Gulf as early as the ninth century. Her reputation for being inscrutable derives from her having been, throughout her long history, almost inaccessible behind a great barricade of mountains. When contact with the west was finally established this idea was reinforced because they found it impossible to engage her interest, as there was really nothing she wanted or needed from it.
The Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) in the great expanse of Chinese history seems relatively near and modern. It is best known to the West due to the development of what would be considered one of its most minor crafts, its porcelains. They are spoken of in some circles, in hushed tones and with a deep respect and reverence for the boldness of their colouring and the freshness of their design. The west only became acquainted with these wares during the fifteenth century, chiefly through strong and somewhat roughly finished articles suitable for the export trade of the time.
However it was the splendid pieces made for the imperial court and the more exacting home markets of China that sent the west into a spin when they were finally revealed. By 1368 when the Ming dynasty began the poets and painters of the T’ang and Sung dynasties had already passed into the hallowed halls of antiquity and it was considered that the supreme periods of the major arts had passed.