From ancient ceramics to imperial jade, oracle bones to propaganda posters, our Chinese collection spans over three thousand years and includes around 9,300 items.

Splendid ceramics

Punch bowl of porcelain, painted in overglaze enamels with views of house interiors in Guangzhou (Canton) and figures in Chinese dress overlooking a river: China, Qing Dynasty, late 18th century AD.

The ceramic collection includes almost 2,000 items, from all periods and dynasties of Chinese history, ranging from Late Neolithic cultures such as Yangshao (ca. 5000–2750 BCE), through the Han (206 BCE–220) and Tang (618–907) dynasties, and continuing through the Song (960–1279), Yuan (1279–1368), Ming and Qing up until the 20th century, with material from the Cultural Revolution era (1966–1976).

The ceramics in the collection are representative of many different kilns across China, of different forms, types, periods of production, glazes, styles and techniques. The single largest acquisition remains the pieces purchased from Lieutenant-Colonel Kenneth Dingwall (1869–1946) between 1919 and 1925.

There are also many fine examples of export wares intended for the European market among others, illustrating the skill of Chinese craftsmen in adapting to new markets and tastes. This includes armorial porcelains intended for the European, including Scottish, aristocracy, and bearing their heraldic devices. 21st century ceramics from Shanghai design studio Spin Ceramics have more recently been acquired. These represent the very recent development of studio ceramics in the People's Republic of China.

Oracle bones

Oracle bone of tortoiseshell or ox-bone, with incised script recording divination, excavated at Yinxu, near Anyang, Henan Province: China, Shang dynasty, 1300-1050 BC.

Of great significance is the collection of inscribed oracle bones. Oracle bones, which are usually of turtle plastron or oxen scapula, were used for pyromantic divination by shamans of the late Shang dynasty (c.1600–1046 BCE). The divinatory queries as well as the responses by the spirits were inscribed on the bones in the earliest form of systematic Chinese writing known as oracle bone script.

Formed in China between 1903 and 1908 by two missionaries, Samuel Couling (1859–1922) and Frank Chalfant (1862–1914), the Couling-Chalfant oracle bone collection was assembled only a few years after the oracle bones were recognised for what they are. The 1,500-strong collection was purchased in 1909, making it one of the earliest such collections, and the second largest outside East Asia.

Imperial artefacts

Rice measure of carved red, green and brown lacquer, square and decorated with five-clawed dragons in clouds above mountains and sea, with reign mark on base, and with wooden stand: China, Ming Dynasty, Jiajing reign, 1521-1567 AD.

There is an important range of Ming or Qing objects with imperial provenance or association. These are carved jades, ceramics, lacquer, as well as items of dress and accessories worn by civil and military officials featuring the emblems of court rank and status. Among the most notable items in this collection is a group of 65 folios of finely detailed illustrations painted on silk from the Illustrations of Imperial Ritual Paraphernalia (Huangchao liqi tushi) produced in 1759.

Paintings, prints and rubbings

Handscroll painting, entitled Fishing in a Willow Brook (Liu xi chuidiao), in ink and colours on silk, on the theme of fishing in seclusion, with two colophons: China, attributed to Wang Hui, one colophon by Chen Zhiyan, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi reign, dated 1706.

Other paintings, prints, and rubbings in the collection include ink rubbings from the Han dynasty Wu Liang Family Shrine and from the Tang Nestorian Stele (781) which documents early Christianity in China.

Recent years have seen the acquisition of early modern paintings, including work by the monk-painter Xugu (1823–1896) and Jiang Jie (fl. 1800–32). Late Qing-period pieces include paintings of genre and religious subjects, and anonymous watercolour paintings produced in Guangdong for export to Europe.

In 2013, with the support of the Art Fund, the Museum acquired a large collection of propaganda posters from the 1970s, illustrating political themes prominent during China's heavily politicised Cultural Revolution era.

Textiles and dress

Theatrical robe, voluminous and ankle length with wrap over left front, in orange and turquoise silk embroidered with design of dragons pursuing flaming pearls: China, collected in Tibet, early 20th century.

The textile collection is important and of late Qing and Republican date. Numbering nearly 1,000 items, it features a variety of accessories, headgear and footwear, official and informal dress, seasonal dress and theatrical costumes. This material illustrates China as an ethnically diverse culture, containing examples of Han dress and those of minorities such as the Manchu, Tibetan and Miao.

Lacquerware

Square dish of red lacquered wood, carved with design of three men and an attendant carrying a bamboo container, an ox being led in front, with a bat at each of the four corners: China, 17th century.

The lacquer collection is notable and features many fine pieces spanning a number of historical periods, exemplifying the full range of Chinese lacquer techniques and materials. It ranges from small lacquer containers and vessels to large pieces of imperial lacquered furniture. Around 20 per cent were part of the collection of the noted scholar of Chinese antiquities Sammy Yukuan Lee (1902–2011).

Metalwork

Wall panel of malleable iron (tiehua) with paper ground, one of four representing one of the 'Four Gentlemanly Virtues' (plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum) and the four seasons: China, Qing Dynasty, 17th - 18th century AD.

The metalwork collection includes a small number of Shang to Han bronze vessels, some bearing inscriptions, bronze mirrors and bronze weapons, in the form of ge dagger-axes. It includes cloisonné and enamels, some of imperial provenance, and some produced in Guangzhou for the export market.

A small number of Buddhist gilt bronzes, of both Chinese and Sino-Tibetan figures of Song to Qing date, exemplify the skill of Chinese craftsmen in producing high quality, large scale gilded bronze figures. China's Buddhist and Daoist traditions are reflected through figurative images in both three and two dimensions of lacquered wood, bamboo, ivory, ceramics, cloisonné, stone, metal, and soapstone.

Jade, carvings and the scholar's studio

Double vase carved from a single piece of jade, the bases joined by branches of lingzhi fungus, a taotie mask on sides of the larger vase, and leaves round the neck: China, 18th century.

Jade has always had enormous significance in Chinese culture, and the Museum’s collection demonstrates this through a number of early jades. Later jades and hardstones include some imperially inscribed pieces, as well as figurative carvings, belt plaques, brush pots, table screens, plaques, and vessels.

Carvings in soapstone, bamboo, wood, ivory and rhinoceros horn are found in the collection, demonstrating the skill of Chinese craftsmen in working across a diverse range of materials. These carvings were produced for and associated with China's literati élite of the Ming and Qing periods. Other arts of the scholar's studio include furniture, brush rests, brushes, table screens, and wrist rests, as well as a wide range of decorative objects that may have been collected, viewed, used, or studied by scholars.

Important loans

Painting collected by Sir James Stewart Lockhart.

The collection is supported by important loans, most notably from the Royal Collection Trust, those relating to Sir James Haldane Stewart Lockhart (1858–1937), who served as colonial official in Hong Kong. Widely liked and respected, Lockhart rose to the rank of Registrar General and Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong (1895–1902) and then became Commissioner of Weihaiwei (1902–1921) in Shandong province. Lockhart spoke Chinese fluently, and had a facility with Chinese culture and customs which makes his collection a unique and unparalleled Sino-Scottish collection. You can see highlights from the collection in our online database here.

Contemporary art

Glass sculpture entitled Calligraphy or Non Calligraphy VIII (Fei shu fei fei shu VIII): China, by Wang Qin, 2007.

We continue to add to our Chinese collection, with new acquisitions from contemporary artists.

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