Situated at a longitude between 97 and 126 degrees east and a latitude between 38 and 53 degrees north, Inner Mongolia is located to the north of China proper. The area has a continental climate, with an annual precipitation of 50 to 450 millimeters. Great extremes are typical of the weather in Inner Mongolia.

    At the dawn of the Neolithic Age, i.e., some 8,000 years ago, the Hsing-lung-wa Culture emerged in the eastern part of the landlocked region, where people based their economic life chiefly on primitive agriculture, fishing and hunting. The carved stone figure of a goddess featured in the exhibition is possibly the earliest object of worship in the form of a female goddess in China. Excavations in the area also yielded a large number of jade objects that date to 3,000 B.C. or so. Characteristic of the Hung-shan Culture, these relics are considered as significant as jade pieces of the Liang-chu Culture.

    Approximately 3,500 years ago the climate began to change, gradually turning Inner Mongolia into an area of vast grasslands. The nomadic tribes active on the steppe were truly complex and diverse, and were identified by dwellers of the agricultural culture in the south by a multitude of different names. Some of the names found in classical Chinese historical literature include Kuei-fang, Hsien-yun, Jung-ti and Hsiung-nu (known in the West as the Huns). Excavated artifacts such as the gold hawk-shaped hat ornament and other metal ornaments with motifs of ferocious birds and animals signify the brave and fierce nature of these northern tribes.

    After the decline of the Hunnic domination, a host of other nomadic groups rose to prominence in northern China. Presented in the exhibition are artifacts of the tribes known as Wu-huan, Hsien-pei, Turks, Khitans, Jurchens and Mongols, who were but a few of the peoples on the Mongolian steppe. Some of the tribes entered northern China and set up imperial rule; others held power over both the steppe and the agricultural south. On the other hand, whenever the Chinese governments felt strong enough to do so, they tried to drive the nomadic herdsmen far to the north and solidified parts of Inner Mongolia. In general, cultural exchange in Inner Mongolia over the last two thousand years or so has been a constant and common force regardless of whether the region was ruled by the Han Chinese or by the nomadic tribes.

    More often than not the history of such cultural exchange is told through the archeological finds themselves as an examination of artifacts from different historical periods and from various tribal cultures so demonstrates. After all, the northern tribes had over time absorbed the legacies of neighboring areas in the west and in the south directly into their cultural domains. The Great Wall of China was erected as a definite border to keep the nomads of the pastoral north away from the farmers of the cultivated south. Traditionally, the Chinese have viewed their history only in terms of the regions south of the Great Wall. However, if we were to remove this fence in our perception, what kind of picture of the world would emerge? It is hoped that the present exhibition will go some way towards answering part of this question.

Pre-Steppe Period (ca. 80th-16th century B.C.)

     Around 1500 B.C. the climate of Inner Mongolia began to change, gradually turning the area into a vast steppe land. The society that existed during the four thousand years prior to the transformation was agriculturally based. To date, major excavations in Inner Mongolia have been conducted in two areas, one in the southeast and one in the central south, where archaeologists have unveiled many sites of distinctive cultures. The Hung-shan Culture, for example, is best known for its exquisite jade implements and carvings of human figures and deities.

Jung-ti and Tung-hu Period (ca. 14th-4th century B.C.)

     Beginning in the middle of this period, the tribes on the Inner Mongolian steppe began to adopt a nomadic lifestyle. Cultural relics are represented by knives and daggers with decors of animal heads or with animal patterns, which have been described as "Ordos-style." Also found are bronze ritual vessels of the Shang and Chou Dynasties, which could have been brought from the Central Plains.

Hsiung-nu Period (ca. 3rd century B.C.-1st century)

     Over the past 20 to 30 years, several Hsiung-nu burial sites have been discovered in Inner Mongolia, and finds include belt buckles with animal patterns, decorative plaques and animal-shaped bronze sculptures, apart from the bronze knives and daggers made in the Ordos-style. To be sure, gold and silver pieces unearthed in certain sites, along with objects with animal decors, have served to illustrate the cultural interaction between the nomadic tribes on the eastern and western steppe.

Hsien-pei Period (ca. 2nd-5th century)

     While relics of the Hsien-pei share the same characteristics with works of animal themes and gold pieces of earlier cultures of the steppe, the gold ornaments with decors of horse head and deer antlers featured in this exhibition are rendered in a style not seen in the art of the Hsiung-nu. The Northern Wei was a dynasty that ruled over both the steppe and the agricultural regions. Indeed, several artifacts related to the agricultural society of the south are also presented in the exhibition.

T'u-chueh Period (ca. 6th-8th century)

     Originated in the Altai Mountains, the T'u-chueh (Turks) succeeded during this period in extending their territory to the area north of the Gobi Desert and to Central Asia. The themes of the art of the Turks are a clear departure from the culture of the Han Chinese as can be detected from the Turkic figurative stone carving, the silver hu vessel decorated with the figure of a gilt Caucasian head and the silver dish with the makara pattern on view in the exhibition.

Khitan Period (ca. 10th-12th century)

     While the saddle ornaments, knives and whistling arrows all serve to illustrate the culture of the Khitans, a good portion of the objects on view in this section is made up of Liao ceramics. The design of the cockscomb-shaped hu vessels is in effect taken from the style of the leather pouches used by the nomadic tribes to hold water. On the other hand, the long-necked vase with a phoenix-shaped attachment exhibits a flavor in line with Persian art.

Mongol Period (ca. 13th-14th century)

     The culture of the Mongols is characterized by its multi-faceted, pluralistic features. The gold works, Buddhist sculptures, ritual objects and certain patterns on ceramics presented in the exhibition all reveal a strong affinity to Tibet and Islam. That porcelains of some of the major kilns of China have been discovered in Inner Mongolia serves to confirm that trade between the north and south was common during the Mongol Empire and Yuan Dynasty. Finally, the exhibition also includes a few Mongolian artifacts of the Ch'ing Dynasty.