Chinese Beads?

I’ve been awarded a St. Lawrence University Summer Research Fellowship this summer to look at glass beads in Southeast Asia, and that has started now in full force.

I was going through some sources to find descriptions of beads that might not be so common in Southeast Asia, and I found ‘dark red translucent’ beads and ‘coil beads’ being described as Chinese.  There were a lot of coil beads at some of the sites in Indonesia, and some published material says coil beads are abundant in Southeast Asia.  If so, wouldn’t this provide solid evidence of intensive contact with China? So why do we concentrate so much on Indian influence, especially if we begin to see Chinese contact as early as the 7th century?

Some scholars say that there is a lack of bead research in China – could the discrepancy have to do with the prevalence of research and perhaps the ease of conducting said research?  Could it be that India is being championed largely because much more work has been done on Southeast Asia’s connection to India rather than China?  And if that’s the case, why aren’t scholars really looking at beads in China?

* In 2009, a large edited volume was published of Chinese bead and glass studies for this and later periods.  Since then, work on Chinese material has increased and has led to a lot of very interesting material, but there were few available publications on Chinese material before this.  At the time of writing these notes, I had not yet been able to acquire this volume, so the information was unavailable.


About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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