This “Middle Country,” a vast, ever-changing geographic and cultural patchwork, contradicts the theory that the decline of civilizations should be inescapable. Its complicated and tumultuous history is one of a succession of wars and peace, A supremely ingenious people, they managed to invent such diverse things as paper, printing, the crossbow, matches, gunpowder, porcelain and civil servants, as well as coming up with a technique for glazing ceramics using pleasing colours. Already cultivating rice 7000 years ago, and discovering metallurgy under the Xia dynasty (1766-1122 BC), it is in the Bronze Age under the Shang dynasty and up to the Zhou dynasty (1122-221 BC) that we start to see pieces of great aesthetic quality and perfect workmanship. The Han dynasty followed, a people from the East, whose elaborate funerary rites filled the nobles’ tombs with terracotta statuettes. This practice was then taken up by the Wei and Tang dynasties, who would bring their magnificence to the golden age of the Ming. Archaeology continues to discover masterpieces from the Ming period that do not fail to satisfy the most exacting collectors.4