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East and Southeast Asia

The department’s collections originated at the time when the Kunstkamera was founded (18th century). At that time, the museum received artifacts from various regions of foreign Asia, primarily Mongolia and China, as well as from adjoining territories of Siberia.

One of the first independent academic museums to have descended from the Kunstkamera in the early 1800s was the Asian Museum (its successor is St.-Petersburg Branch of the Institute for Oriental Studies). Nearly all collections of Oriental provenance (artifacts, manuscripts, books, etc.) were transferred there.

After the Ethnographic Museum had been established (1836–37), Oriental artifacts were gradually returned to it. The acquisition of East Asian collections continued. Since the transformation of the Ethnographical and Anatomical Museums into the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (1879), Asian (primarily Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian) collections have played a key role there and are being constantly replenished.

The influx of Far Eastern materials was the most intense in late 1800s and early 1900s, when MAE was headed by Academician V.V. Radlov. Another fruitful period was that of the 1920s and 1930s. During these periods, most East Asian collections bearing on traditional cultures of that region were acquired.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, thanks to strengthened ties with China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan, large Far Eastern collections from these countries were brought to MAE by visiting specialists. In later years, the materials were mostly replenished through separate purchases and donations.

The first collections from mainland Southeast Asia were received in the late 1800s. In the last decades of the 20th century and in the early 2000s further increase occurred thanks to manifold relationships with countries of that region (especially Vietnam and Thailand).

At present, East and Southeast Asian ethnographic collections of MAE are among the richest and the most diverse in world museums. A highly important source of information concerning that region is the huge collection of photographs.

Over nearly three centuries, many dozens of collectors, some of whom were prominent representatives of Russian and Western science and culture, have contributed to the growth of the department’s collections. Among them were Orientalists such as Academicians V.V. Bartold, B.Ya. Vladimirtsov, S.F. Oldenburg, as well as A.E. Gluskina, S.E. Malov, G.O. Mohnseeler, A.D. Rudnev, etc., ethnographers such as B.O. Pilsudskii, V.L. Sieroszewsky, S.M. Shirokogorov, diplomats such as K.I. Weber, N.N. Krotkov, L. Lang, V.F. Lub, J.P. Shishmarev, travelers such as F.L. Jelachich, P.K. Kozlov, amateur ethnographers and collectors such as N.V. Kirillov, G.M. Osokin, E.E. Ukhtomskii, Russian officers and sailors such as M.V. Ladyzhenskii, K.N. Pos'et, P.P. Molas, V.V. Lindestrom, etc. Also, the museum received collections from other Russian and foreign museums and other institutions.

At present the Department of East and Southeast Asia owns several dozens of thousands of specimens, nearly 40,000 of which are Chinese, about 9,000 are Japanese, more than 2,000 are Korean, and about as many are Mongolian. Most were collected in the 1800s and early 1900s, and this alone makes them unique or at least valuable in terms of historic and cultural information.

The most precious specimens include the costume of an 18th-century Chinese general, 15th – 18th-century Chinese porcelain, artwork, early medieval Korean celadon dishes excavated in late 1800s, Japanese painting and weapons, Mongolian articles related to the tsam ceremony, Buddhist bronze sculptures from Tibet, China, Mongolia, and Thailand, masks and other attributes of Thai, Chinese, and Japanese traditional dramas, etc. Several published catalogues of the department’s collections are available, as are articles describing their origins:

  • Ainskie kollektsii Muzeya antropologii i etnografii im. Petra Velikogo (Kunstkamera) Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk: Katalog [Ainu Collections of Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Catalogue] / Introduction and texts by Ch.M. Taksami. Tokyo, 1998. 204 p.
  • Kislyakov V.N. Sobirateli kollektsii MAE po traditsionnoi kul’ture narodov Kitaya (dorevolyutsionnyi period) [MAE collectors of the pre-revolutionary era: Chinese Traditional Culture] // Kurier Petrovskoi Kunstkamery. SPb., 1996. Vol. 4–5. P. 57–74.
  • Kislyakov V.N. . Sobirateli kitaiskikh kollektsii MAE RAN (posleoktyabr’skii period) [MAE collectors of the post-revolutionary era: Chinese Traditional Culture] // Kusntkamera vchera, segodnya, zavtra. SPb., 1996. Vol. 1. P. 68–95.
  • Sinitsyn A.Yu. Oruzhie i boevoe snaryazhenie yaponskikh samuraev: Katalog kollektsii MAE [Weapons and Battle Armor of the Samurai: Catalogue of the MAE Collections]. SPb.: MAE RAS. 1999. 159 p.
  • Suslova I.V. Katalog kollektsii po razdelu “Mongoly”. Svodnyi ukazatel’ kollektsii po razdelu “mongoly” [Catalogue of Mongolian Collections. General index] // Koreiskie i mongol’skie kollektsii v sobraniyakh MAE. Leningrad, 1987. P. 163–170. (MAE Collection. Vol. XLI).
  • Suslova I.V. Katalog kollektsii po razdelu “Koreitsy”. Svodnyi ukazatel’ kollektsii po razdelu “Koreitsy” (“Catalogue of Korean Collections. General index”) // Koreiskie i mongol’skie kollektsii v sobraniyakh MAE. Leningrad, 1987. P. 171–175. (MAE Collection. Vol. XLI).
  • Suslova I.V., Ionova Yu.V., Li N.E., Yun G.I. Pamyatniki koreiskoi kul’tury iz sobraniya Muzeya antropologii i etnografii imeni Petra Velikogo (Kunstkamera) Rossii [Monuments of Korean Culture from the Collection of Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of Russia]. Seoul, 2004. 376 p.
  • Suslova I.V. Katalog kollektsii MAE po narodam materikovoi chasti Yugo-Vostochnoi Azii. Svodnyi ukazatel’ kollektsii po narodam materikovoi chasti Yugo-Vostochnoi Azii. Svodnyi ukazatel’ illyustrirovannykh kollektsii po narodam materikovoi chasti Yugo-Vostochnoi Azii [Catalogue of MAE collections from mainland Southeast Asia. General index including index of illustrations] // Kul’tura narodov Okeanii i Yugo-Vostochnoi Azii. SPb., 1995. P. 226–235. (MAE Collection, Vol. XLVI).