China, India, and Iran – Scientific Exchange and Cultural Contact

[Rostam sleeping while Rakhsh fights a lion. British Museum 1948,1211,0.23]


Time: Friday October 8, 9:30am–8:30pm; Saturday October 9, 9:00am–6:00pm BST
Online Registration:


Abstract: Connected by the Silk Road, the three ancient civilisations, China, India, and Iran engaged in dialogue and exchange from around the beginning of the Common Era for over a millennium. Such intra-Asian contacts entailed scientific and cultural exchange in the fields of astronomy, medicine, language, and religion, as well as various forms of material culture. As new ideas and technological knowledge, embodied often in specific cultural forms, cross cultural and linguistic boundaries, they transform and adapt to the local cultures, creating lasting effects for their recipients. In this interdisciplinary workshop jointly organised by the Needham Research Institute, the Ancient India and Iran Trust, and the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge University, specialists of the pre-modern cultures in Asia will share their insights on this phenomenon focusing on the first millennium CE, as well as highlights from their latest research. The event will be an occasion for scholars and researchers based in various institutes in U.K. to engage in scholarly exchange and to explore further topics of common interest.

Keynote Speaker: Sam Lieu FBA

Speakers: T.H.Barrett (SOAS, University of London),Thomas Benfey (University of Oxford), Sally K. Church (Needham Research Institute), Seb Falk (University of Cambridge), Flavia Xi Fang (University of Cambridge), Jing Feng (University of Cambridge), Imre Galambos (University of Cambridge), Erica C.D. Hunter (SOAS, University of London), Bill M. Mak (Needham Research Institute), Raymond Mercier, Daniel J. Sheridan (University of Cambridge), Nicholas Sims-Williams (AIIT/ SOAS, University of London), Vincenzo Vergiani (University of Cambridge), Dror Weil (University of Cambridge), Zhan Zhang (University of Oxford)

Please see the program and the poster of this workshop


Day 1: October 8, 2021

09:30-09:45 Welcoming Address
Jianjun Mei (Needham Research Institute)
09:45-10:30 Keynote Lecture
Sam Lieu FBA (Robinson College, Cambridge)
From Qin to Cathay – Names for China and the Chinese on the Silk Road
10:30-11:00 Tea Break
11:00-11:30 Erica C.D. Hunter (SOAS, University of London)
Cam. Mm-6-29 and the Transmission of Metallurgical Recipes
11:30-12:00 Sally K. Church (Needham Research Institute)
Interplays and Interactions on the Maritime and Overland Silk Roads in the First Millennium CE
12:00-12:30 Discussions and Q&A
Discussant: Jianjun Mei
12:30-14:00 Buffet Lunch
14:00-14:30 Tim H. Barrett (SOAS, University of London)
The Ultimate Goal of Daoism: An Iranian State of Mind?
14:30-15:00 Jing Feng (University of Cambridge)
Dunhuang Codices under the Cross-cultural Lens
15:00-15:30 Discussions and Q&A
Discussant: Imre Galambos
15:30-16:00 Tea break and optional tour of NRI
16:00-16:30 Dror Weil (University of Cambridge)
Translating Cross-Asian Medical Experience in Tables: The Case of Taqwīm Works
16:30-17:00 Flavia Xi Fang (University of Cambridge)
Travelling Scents: The Transmission of Aromatics and the Reshaping of the Tang Smellscape
17:00-17:30 Daniel J. Sheridan (University of Cambridge)
Books from Afar: Christian Codices and Scripts in Early Medieval China
17:30-18:00 Discussions and Q&A
Discussant: Erica C.D. Hunter
19:00-20:30 Workshop Dinner


Day 2 : October 9, 2021

09:00-09:15 Welcome Address
Nicholas Sims-Williams (Ancient India and Iran Trust)
09:15-09:45 Vincenzo Vergiani (University of Cambridge)
The Introduction of Writing in Achaemenid Gandhāra and the Birth of Pāṇini’s Grammar
09:45-10:15 Zhan Zhang (University of Oxford)
Form, Format, and Formulae of Slave Purchase Contracts in First-millennium Central Asia
10:15-10:45 Discussions and Q&A
Discussant: Nicholas Sims-Williams
10:45-11:00 Tea Break
11:00-11:30 Imre Galambos (University of Cambridge)
The Pothi Book Form In 10th- century Dunhuang
11:30-12:00 Bill M. Mak (Needham Research Institute, Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum)
The Astral Science of the Persian Christians in Tang China and its Chinese Reception
12:00-12:30 Discussions and Q&A
Discussant: Tim H. Barrett
12:30-14:00 Buffet Lunch
14:00-14:30 Thomas Benfey (University of Oxford)
The Sasanian Iranian Reception of India Astral Science: A Reevaluation
14:30-15:00 Raymond Mercier
Āryabhaṭa’s Astronomy and the Underlying Observations
15:00-15:30 Discussions and Q&A
Discussant: François de Blois (University College London)
15:30-16:00 Tea break and tour of AIIT
16:00-16:30 Nicholas Sims-Williams (SOAS, University of London)
Bi Bo (Renmin University, Beijing)
Astronomy and Astrology in a Manichaean Text from Turfan
16:30-17:00 Seb Falk (University of Cambridge)
Astronomical Instruments and Ideas: India, Iran and Europe
17:00-17:30 Discussions and Q&A
Discussant: François de Blois
17:30-18:00 Closing Remarks