Export China: Reimagining Chineseness through the Ceramics Trade in Southeast Asia


In 2021, a team of divers sponsored by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute surveyed two historic shipwrecks discovered in the Singapore Strait, working for several months to bring their submerged cargos to the surface. Chinese trade ceramics found in these cargos date their demise to the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries – pivotal moments in the history of the globe-spanning China Trade. The most intriguing aspect of this salvage operation, however, is the discovery in the remains of the older vessel of the most substantial cargo of Yuan-dynasty blue-and-white porcelain yet found in Southeast Asian waters.

Joining Dr Natali Pearson on SSEAC Stories, Dr Alex Burchmore argues that these discoveries provide valuable insights into the complex interactions between China and Southeast Asia, allowing us to reposition Southeast Asia at the centre of historic trade narratives. Through the international trade of Chinese ceramics, Dr Burchmore invites us to reimagine the past, rethinking traditional narratives of Chineseness across the region, as well as Australia’s identity in the Asia-Pacific.

About Alex Burchmore:

Dr Alex Burchmore is an art historian specialising in the study of Chinese and Southeast Asian art, past and present, with a particular focus on ceramics, trade and exchange, and the interweaving of the personal and material. Alex received his PhD from the Australian National University in 2019 and joined the University of Sydney’s Museum and Heritage Studies department in 2021. His first book, New Export China: Translations Across Time and Place in Contemporary Chinese Porcelain Art (University of California Press, 2023), traces the extent to which artists within and beyond China have used porcelain to shape their personal, historical, and cultural identities, from the 1990s to the present. His recent publications include a study of the ‘material Chineseness’ of ink and porcelain in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art and a chapter dedicated to the ‘fugitive luxury’ of contemporary Chinese ceramics in The Allure of Matter: Materiality Across Chinese Art (University of Chicago Press, 2021).

For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website: www.sydney.edu.au/sseac.

Your Host

Natali Pearson

Dr Natali Pearson is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.

View Profile