From Rituals to the Elite

On Tuesday, 18 September, the Society was delighted to be able to host a lecture by Dr Rose Kerr (former Keeper of the East Asian Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum) titled “Arrow Vase: From Ritual to Game”. The lecture highlighted the Ming-dynasty Arrow Vase that is currently on loan at the Society from the Horniman Museum, as part of the Object in Focus programme.


Dr Rose Kerr

Rose traced the ancient origins of the Arrow Vase game, which dates back at least to the Chinese Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC), when it was described in the Li Ji (Book of Rites). Rose’s lecture was illuminated by a fascinating selection of images documenting a rich variety of different Arrow Vases used to play the game across the centuries; with the changes in design speaking to how the social context and ritual function of the game changed over time.

The Arrow vase currently on display

The Arrow Vase can be viewed in the Society’s Reading Room until 14 December 2018.

On Thursday 20th September the Society welcomed another guest lecturer. Dr Gulfishan Khan from the Aligarh Muslim University lectured on ‘The Indo-Persian elite and the Formation of Orientalist Tradition’ in which she considered the interaction of these educated elite with the early Orientalists from Europe. She not only considered the English, for example William Jones, in India, but also the lives of some of those Indians who travelled to Europe such as Shaikh Iʽtiṣām al-Dīn and Mirzā Abū Ṭālib ibn Muḥammad Iṣfahānī including some illuminating comments on how the early Orientalists were viewed by the Indo-Persian elite.

Dr Gulfishan Khan

We are grateful to both these lecturers for the insights into which they brought on very different topics. The next lecture will be on Thursday 4 October when Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones (Independent Scholar and Member of RAS Council) will lecture on ‘My Dear Schomberg’: Letters from Sir Aurel Stein. Stein was a prolific letter-writer but Dr Llewellyn-Jones discovered that his biographies fail to mention his correspondence with Colonel Reginald Schomberg during the last decade of his life.  The two men met each other in Oxford and later at the British Consul-General’s house at Kashgar. Unwittingly, Stein was caught up in the fierce struggle for leadership in Chinese Turkestan in the early 1930s.  His friend Schomberg was gun-running British arms and ammunition into Turkestan for the Chinese authorities and this was used as a lever for Stein’s fourth and final expedition that was to end in failure. This lecture considers Stein’s hitherto unknown letters to Schomberg and the relationship between the two men, both of Jewish heritage and firmly embedded in Britain as the last act of the Great Game was played out. We hope you will be able to join us for this event.

Sir Aurel Stein with his dog, Dash V