Diamond sutra, 19th century

19th century

Translators enabled Buddhism to spread across Asia. This sutra, or scripture, translated from Sanskrit to Chinese, is an important Mahayana Buddhist text. Mahayana is a tradition of Buddhism popular in China and other East Asian countries.

Ref. Chinese Drawings 28

Heart Sutra of the Divine Incantations of Great Sorrow, 1809

Buddhists memorise popular mantras or incantations, such as this one, and recite them for protection. Rather than translating the meaning, these Chinese characters recreate the sound of the original Sanskrit text, a part of the Great Compassion Mantra. 

Ref. Chinese Crawford 67

Complete Narrative of the Journey to the West

In the seventh century, Chinese monk Xuanzang travelled to India over the Silk Roads to explore Buddhism. Still a relatively new faith in China, he studied Buddhism in its original languages. This novel about Xuanzang’s quest was written one millennium later, with Buddhism firmly established in China.

Ref. Chinese Crawford 226

The True Learning of Islam, by Lan Zixi


Introducing the history of Islam in China, this work includes parts of the Quran in Arabic. Calligraphy on the left presents the Arabic alphabet shaped to resemble a human figure.

Ref. Chinese Crawford 326

Additional Sacrifice, 18th-19th century

Eighteenth or Nineteenth century

This prayer book for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) was made for a leader of a congregation to use in public prayer. It was created by the small but significant Jewish community of China’s ancient capital Kaifeng. Sources suggest that Jewish merchants arrived in China by way of the Silk Roads in the Northern Song era (960–1127) or perhaps already during the Tang (618–907).

Ref. Hebrew MS 24