An exhibit of rare 2,000-year-old art never seen outside China opens next week at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The 300 works reveal strong influences of ancient neighboring cultures.

The groundbreaking exhibit tells the story of Chinese art and culture from the Han to the Tang Dynasty, a period dramatically influenced by massive immigration and trade from northern Asia, according to Phillipe de Montebello, the museum's director.

"These objects have undone accepted beliefs about style, iconography, regional power and taught us that in the late Han and Tang period China becomes a great cosmopolitan, international center in which influences of all sorts on culture and on art take hold, completely reshape art North and South, East and West within China," he explained.

More than 40 art and cultural institutions from across China loaned the treasured objects for the New York exhibition. Most of the objects were unearthed in the last 30 years, and have never been shown outside China.

The works range from gold artifacts of the Mongolian nomads who occupied North China after the collapse of the Han dynasty in the third century to a series of bronze chariots and horses discovered in the tomb of the governor of the Gansu province in 1969.

James Watt is curator of the exhibition. He says the main theme of "China: Dawn of the Golden Age" is the rebirth of Chinese civilization from the third century to the eighth century, and is probably most visible in the extensive display of textiles. "In no other material is the process of the exchange between East and West better illustrated than in textiles, both in terms of technological exchange and in terms of artistic exchange of motifs and decorative patterns," he said.

The other unmistakable influence is that of bordering cultures, which stretched from the Black Sea to Manchuria and reached down to what is now Afghanistan.

Xu Huping is the head of China's Nanjing Museum, which loaned 13 of the exhibition's major pieces. He said that he hopes the exhibition will be a bridge of understanding between cultures.

"China has a very long history, over 5,000 years. This exhibition focuses on only the late Han dynasty, just a short period of history," he said. "Through this exhibition, we hope the visitors coming from the whole world will understand our Chinese civilization, our Chinese culture, and we also want to learn something from the whole world through this exhibition."

The landmark exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art runs through January 2005. Funding for the exhibition came from the Starr and Freeman Foundations, two organizations with strong business and cultural ties to China.