Branches and Bones: The Transformative Matter of Coral in Ming Dynasty China

  • Anna Grasskamp
Part of the Europe's Asian Centuries book series (EAC)


Through international trade, coral fragments from the Mediterranean Sea arrived in Ming dynasty China. There, they were represented in paintings as a significant constituent of pan-Asian Buddhist iconographies. Against the backdrop of coral’s meanings in early modern Europe and its trade links to Asia, this chapter investigates red coral in Ming dynasty China with a focus on Buddhist imagery, particularly through Korean paintings and Indian mythology. Entangled in a web of transcultural meanings, coral was perceived as having a unique ability to transform. It was viewed as an object “in between”: between global and local spaces, between resembling tree branches and the blood-covered bones of self-sacrifice, between foreign commodity and sacred offering.


Coral Ming dynasty Buddhism Korea India Mythology Paintings 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Grasskamp
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist UniversityHong KongHong Kong SAR
  2. 2.Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe at Heidelberg UniversityHeidelbergGermany

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