Working in and with China

Collections and Galleries

The V&A possesses one of the most comprehensive and important collections of Chinese art outside East Asia. The V&A acquired its first group of Chinese artefacts in 1852. Today, the Museum’s Chinese collection amounts to approximately 18,000 objects, with examples from all branches of Chinese art including ceramics, jade, metalwork, lacquer, textiles, furniture, sculpture, ivory, bamboo, rhinoceros horn, glass, paintings, manuscripts and prints.

The particular strength of the V&A Chinese collections is in the applied arts of later dynastic China, after AD 1500. Highlights are on display in the T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art and the Ceramics Galleries on Level 6. The V&A continues to collect excellent examples of contemporary art and design in Mainland China and Hong Kong and works actively with expert colleagues in leading Chinese museums to study and understand the Museum’s collections.

The first phase of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art re-opened on 29 August 2015, devoted to images of the Buddha Shakyamuni from across Asia. Part of the conservation work included a few challenging objects such as two paper Thai banners and one lacquered Burmese Buddha. A blog was written regarding the latter. The second phase will see the Ho Gallery of Buddhist Sculpture reopen together with the new Exhibition Road entrance in Autumn 2017.

Exhibitions

At the V&A

The V&A has organised a number of important exhibitions at the V&A over the last decade.

  • Masterpieces of Chinese Paintings: 700-1900 (October 2013 – January 2014): The show was the first UK overview of the Chinese painting tradition since the International Exhibition of Chinese Art at the Royal Academy in 1935. It brought together over 100 of the finest examples of Chinese painting, including some of the earliest surviving Chinese paintings and other extremely rare pieces, from the greatest collections in the world. Many of the paintings were shown in Europe for the first time, on loan from the Palace Museum Beijing, Shanghai Museum, Liaoning Provincial Museum, Dunhuang Academy and Tianjin Museum. The exhibition was supported the Friends of the V&A, Viking River Cruises and Ping Pong.
  • Travelling to the Wonderland (2013 – 2014): To coincide with Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900, artist Xu Bing’s major landscape installation transformed the V&A’s John Madejski Garden into an ethereal utopia inspired by the classic Chinese fable Tao Hua Yuan (Peach Blossom Spring).
  • Imperial Chinese Robes from the Forbidden City (December 2010 – February 2011): The exhibition showed three centuries of imperial robes worn by the emperors and empresses of the Qing Dynasty, the last ruling dynasty of China (1644-1911). All objects were on loan from the Palace Museum Beijing.
  • China Design Now (March – July 2008): This seminal exhibition was presented at the V&A to coincide with the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The V&A captured an extraordinary moment of contemporary Chinese history in the making.The exhibition featured designs and artefacts by emerging and established Chinese creatives and leading international designers from three cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.
  • Beauty’s Enchantment: 17th Century Chinese Porcelain (2006): The V&A worked with the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collections to organise this exhibition. It featured 120 ceramic objects and explored the so-called ‘transitional style’ which emerged at the end of the Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty period in the 17th century.It debuted at the Shanghai Museum in 2005 and then was shown at the V&A in 2006.
  • Between Past and Future (September 2005 – January 2006): Curated by the International Centre for Photography (ICP) New York, in conjunction with the David and Alfred Smart Museum at the University of Chicago. A total of 83 works by 40 contemporary artists, the majority of whom exhibited in the UK for the first time, were displayed.

In China

Throughout the last decade, the V&A has also worked on a number of exhibitions with venues in China. Souvenir from Canton was held at Guangzhou Museum in 2003 and explored an impressive 208 Chinese export watercolours, and attracted 100,000 visitors. Later exhibitions have included the digital art exhibition Decode: Digital Design Sensations at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing and Indian Temple Sculpture, developed in collaboration with the British Museum at the Shanghai Museum, both in 2010; The Golden Age of Couture at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in 2009; the high-profile Vivienne Westwood exhibition was shown at Bund 18 in Shanghai in 2005 and at ArtisTree in Hong Kong in 2008-2009; and A Century of Olympic Posters in the Capital Museum, Beijing and the Liaoning Provincial Museum in Shenyang, in 2008.

More recently

  • Masterpieces of British Silver: Highlights from the Victoria and Albert Museum (21 March 2016 – 18 August 2016): This exhibition at the Liang Yi Museum, Hong Kong, consists of seven loans from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection and 38 loans of silver made in Britain over the last fifty years, including designs and a model for silver candelabra commissioned by the V&A from contemporary makers.
  • Unidentified Acts of Design (December 2015 – February 2016): This display curated by Brendan Cormier and Luisa E. Mengoni was presented at the UABB Shenzhen Biennale and explored examples of design that occurred historically or are emerging in Shenzhen and the Pearls River Delta outside of the conventional notion of the design studio. It included examples taken from urban villages, pattern making factories, new inventions taking advantage of the unique open sources system of the city, up to the region’s pioneering role in the development of WeChat, one of the world’s largest social media platforms today. The display also offered a first insight on the V&A Gallery Shekou. It won the UABB Independent Jury's Bronze Award.
  • Chinese School Uniform (April – July 2015). The display of the Shenzhen school uniform in China Galleries as part of All of This Belongs to You was covered by several media outlets including on CCTV, the national broadcaster in China as well as numerous newspaper. An English-language interview with Assistant Curator Kristian Volsing was published in the China Global Times in April. The uniform was first displayed in our Rapid Response Collecting project at the Shenzhen Biennale in 2013.
  • Rapid Response Collecting (December 2013 – January 2014): This was a small display curated by the Architecture, Digital and Product Design section as part of the Urbanism and Architecture Bi-City Biennale in Shenzhen. This display won the Public Choice Award, which was voted on by visitors on site and online.
  • Splendours of India’s Royal Court (April – July 2013): Shown at the Palace Museum, Beijing, the exhibition received over 202,000 visitors.
  • Passion for Porcelain: Ceramics Masterpieces from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (June 2012 – January 2013): This major exhibition was organised with the British Museum and the National Museum of China (NMC) as part of the UK Now Festival in China. The catalogue was published in English and Chinese.
  • Water into Art (2012): This V&A touring exhibition was presented at the Shenzhen Museum. During this first collaboration with Shenzhen, the exhibition received over 190,000 visits. 100 works were on display and illustrated the breadth and diversity of this important V&A collection of watercolours.

V&A loans

Our most recent major loans to China includes loans to the exhibition The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Chairs for viewing the world through time at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum June-September 2014; and Taste and Essence: A special exhibition of historical tea pieces from the collections of the Palace Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum at the Macau Museum of Art, 2013-2014.

One of the umbrellas collected for Rapid Response on the occasion of the ’Umbrella Revolution’ in Hong Kong in September 2014 to protect protestors from tear gas has been selected to tour to the second venue for the Disobedient Objects exhibition in Melbourne, Australia.

Learning and audience engagement

For adults

A number of V&A learning programmes are related to Chinese art and design.

  • Arts of East Asia: China, Korea, and Japan – Neolithic to the Modern Period is a year-long course for adult learners. It runs from September to July.
  • Fire, Earth and Water: The Ceramic Traditions of East Asia. A 10 week course running from Tuesdays 10 January - 21 March. This short course introduces the ceramics of China, Korea and Japan, incorporating Gallery Visits and Object Study Sessions in addition to Lecture-based study. V&A Curators and subject specialists will highlight the strengths of the collection from neolithic earthenware to fine porcelain up to the present

For families

  • An Adventure in China, a back-pack and picnic trail for families to explore the culture and traditions of ancient China via the Museum’s galleries.
  • Curious Ceramics (launched May 2015), a new back-pack for families with children with multiple sensory impairments. Created in partnership with SENSE, the resource is based in the Ceramics galleries, focussing on the Flower Pyramid and telling the story of porcelain’s influence spreading to Europe.

For schools

  • Primary Discovery Session:
    Discovering Materials workshop for KS1&2. It uses the China gallery to explore the properties of different materials commonly found on display in the gallery, such as ceramic, wood, metal, glass and lacquer. Following an exploration of the different materials, pupils then have the chance to get hands-on and make their own designs in response to the collections.
    The session is available to book Monday-Friday 3 times a day during term time.

    Discovering Shape workshop for KS1 and Reception. Set within the China gallery, this session encourages children to use imagination and experimentation to explore different shapes found in objects and spaces around the museum. By the end of the session they will be able to identify regular shapes as well as investigate the idea of irregular or unusual shapes. Through a hands-on physical approach children will be able to make large shapes in groups, go on a treasure hunt around the gallery to spot shapes hiding in the museum objects and then have a go at ‘drawing’ their own shapes using coloured string inspired by some of the artwork and objects they have seen.
    The session is available to book Monday-Friday 3 times a day during term time.
  • China Teachers Resource
    (available to download)
  • Primary Gallery Tour: V&A Voyage
    Explore traditional clothes, religious objects and items used from India, China, Japan and the Islamic Middle East.
    (available term time, daily)

Chinese Dragon Robes
Our newly-designed boxes for students with special educational needs are packed with multi-sensory resources that use sound, smell and touch to help bring museum objects to life.
Find out more here.

27 January; 3 February; 3 March; 21 April; 23 June; 14 July 2017

Communications

‘Fit for China’ Digital Showcasing Project
The V&A has recently been selected, alongside 10 other arts and heritage organisations, to take part in a collaborative project with Culture24, the British Council and Storythings, which aims to develop relevant and engaging UK online cultural content for international audiences with a focus on China. The V&A has offered eight pieces of digital content that represent, as broadly as possible, the V&A's collection: historical, contemporary, geographical and material.

Relationships

Institutional Collaborations

For many years, the V&A has been enjoying an extremely good relationship with Chinese colleagues either formally (M.o.U. signed in 2010 with the Capital Museum and the Palace Museum) and at an informal level through joint research or curatorial exchanges.

The V&A and China Merchant's Group (CMG) signed a collaboration agreement in June 2014 to support CMG's ambitious plan to develop a major design in the Shekou district of Shenzhen, the city designated by UNESCO as the city of design and creative industries. The development is led by CMSK, the real estate flagship of CMG, who have commissioned a new museum building designed by renowned Japanese architecture studio Maki, led by Fumihiko Maki. This new building will be inhabited by Design Society and will comprise a dedicated new V&A Gallery, Shekou. Touring exhibitions will also be presented at Design Society. The V&A is also playing an advisory role in helping Design Society foundation (the cultural arm of Design Society) develop its own collections and provides training for its senior management team. Luisa Elena Mengoni, a curator from the V&A, is in a three-year secondment in Shenzhen to work as the V&A representative for the project in China. On 19 March 2016, the name Design Society was announced by CMG. Design Society with V&A Gallery, Shekou, is due to open in 2017. Please visit the dedicated Shekou project page for more information and regular updates from the team.

  • Selected Records of Overseas Chinese Antiquities – V&A Volume (2014): The V&A Chinese collection was selected to feature in the first volume of a series published by the National Museum of China to present the best Chinese museum collections outside of China. The National Museum of China called a press conference for this publication on 26th March, attended by 60-70 news agencies from all over China. Mr Song Xinchao, spokesman from the Ministry of Culture described the book as ‘first-rate in both content and design … the fruit of ten years tireless efforts’.

Diplomatic Relationships

The V&A enjoys a very good working relationship with the Embassy for the People’s Republic of China in London. The V&A welcomed the Chinese Minister of Culture in October 2013.

  • On 21st October 2015 the V&A was invited to present its rich and innovative work in and with China as part of the Cultural Showcase organised by UKTI and FCO for the State visit of President Xi Jinping. A showcase display was developed by the Museum’s Head of International Initiatives presenting the V&A and its China-related activity, with a particular focus on the Shekou project. Tim Reeve presented it to the President, the First Lady, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
  • The V&A hosted the first China-UK Design Forum during the London Design Festival (LDF) on 22 September 2015. The Forum was organised by China Link on behalf of the Chinese Embassy. The event was supported by Shenzhen Municipal Development, The Trade Development Bureaucracy, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, and the Shenzhen Industrial Design Association (SIDA). Beth McKillop gave welcoming remarks followed by Mr Xiang Xiaowei (Minister Counsellor for Culture, Chinese Embassy) and a keynote by Sir John Sorrell CBE (Chairman of LDF).
  • The V&A was the chosen venue for the first UK-China People to People Dialogue (April 2012) in the top tier of UK-China bilateral exchanges. The Dialogue provided an opportunity to develop closer ties with China in areas where the UK excels, including culture, the creative industries and education. The dialogue was led by Madame Liu Yandong, State Councillor of the People’s Republic of China and Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport at the time.

Other activities include:

  • Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, received Mr WANG Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, on his first visit to the V&A on the 4th February 2016.
  • Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, was awarded by the Chinese Ministry of Culture the Brilliant Contribution Award of International Cultural Exchange, China, 2014 on April 2014.

Special projects

  • The V&A organised the UK-China Cultural Exchange jointly with the British Library, British Museum, and Tate. On the 17th March 2016 a roundtable and a symposium took place at the Tate. The two events concluded the UK-China Cultural Exchange Programme supported by DCMS. As part of the programme, the V&A developed and delivered two pilot museum masterclasses in partnership with UNNC, the first Sino-foreign University developed by the University of Nottingham as a joint venture with Wanli Education Group.
  • Chinese Iconography Thesaurus (Asian department) – 2016: With the support of DCMS the V&A has launched a new digital metadata project Chinese Iconography Thesaurus, a ground-breaking bilingual research tool to enable a better understanding of Chinese art. The project is being led by Zhang Hongxing, Senior Curator of Asian Department at the V&A. He is developing it in collaboration with leading Chinese and international experts in museums and research institutions.
  • Ningbo China Pilot Museum Masterclasses: As part of the UK-China Cultural Exchange programme funded by DCMS, the V&A ran two three-day pilot museum masterclasses on 8-10 December 2015 in collaboration with Ningbo China (UNNC), the university owned by Wali Education Group and created in joint venture with the University of Nottingham. The pilot masterclasses, held in Ningbo, were intended to respond to the Chinese museum sector’s capacity building needs and explore new formats for museum training for the Chinese market. The masterclasses were delivered with simultaneous translations, enabling greater outreach throughout Mainland China. In total, the two masterclasses welcomed 60 museum colleagues from across the country.
  • Bodies of Planned Obsolescence – 2015: As part of the V&A Digital Programmes, the V&A has been in Hong Kong doing research on electronic waste with a group of artists, designers, theorists and scientists and took part in a symposium with policy makers on e-waste issues. This project was funded by the AHRC.
  • Shanghai 2010: Because of its unique links to the Great Exhibition of 1851, the V&A was active in marking Shanghai Expo 2010. Designs for the British Pavilion were displayed at the V&A in 2009. The Museum worked with the Shanghai Expo Bureau, Shanghai Museum and the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) towards two exhibitions for the Shanghai Expo. The magnificent oil painting by Henry Courtney Selous, The Opening of the Great Exhibition (1851) was among over 30 loans to the Shanghai Expo Museum which, to the end of August 2010, had received 1,620,000 visitors.

Development

In 2010, the Travel with the V&A programme organised a trip to China. Led by V&A curators, Museum supporters, visited sites in Beijing, Hangzhou, Xi’an and Shanghai, meeting Museum peers, collectors, artists, designers, and cultural figures. This visit helped strengthen and build relationships with Chinese organisations and individuals, and to raise awareness of these important relationships with V&A supporters. The trip also helped support China related acquisitions and a display.

Commercial activities

A V&A underwear range with AIMER was launched in Beijing in September 2015. The second Chinese licensee launched a print on demand service in January. The service operates in a similar way to vandaprints.com, selling framed prints and canvases online in China and Greater China.

Publications

V&A publications on Chinese themes are extremely diverse and include a study in Chinese of early collectors of Chinese art and a collaborative volume on medieval textiles from Central Asia in the Stein collection. The recent exhibition, Masterpieces of British Silver: Highlights from the Victoria and Albert Museum (21 March 2016 – 18 August 2016) at the Liang Yi Museum, Hong Kong, was also accompanied by the publication Masterpieces of British Silver with texts in Mandarin and English and essays by V&A curators Heike Zech and Eric Turner.

V&A publications include the following:

  • Luk Yu-ping, The Empress and the Heavenly Masters: A Study of the Ordination Scroll of Empress Zhang (1493) (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2016)
  • Rose Kerr and Luisa Mengoni, Chinese Export Ceramics, Chinese version (Shanghai: Shanghai Shuhua Chubanshe, 2014)
  • Zhang Hongxing, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting: 700-1900 (V&A Publishing, 2013)
  • Katherine Coombs, British Watercolours 1750-1950, Chinese version (Beijing: Heritage Press, 2013)Anna Jackson et al, The Splendour of India's Royal Courts, Chinese version (Beijing: Palace Museum, 2013)
  • Rose Kerr, Luisa Mengoni, and Ming Wilson, Chinese Export Ceramics (V&A Publishing, 2011)
  • Ming Wilson, Imperial Chinese Robes (V&A Publishing, 2011)
  • Yueh-Siang Chang, V&A Pattern: Chinese Textiles (V&A Publishing, 2010)
  • Stacey Pierson, Chinese Ceramics (V&A Publishing, 2009)
  • Zhang Hongxing and Lauren Parker, eds., China Design Now (V&A Publishing, 2008)
  • Zhao Feng, Helen Wang, Helen Persson, Frances Wood, Wang Le and Xu Zheng (eds.), Textiles from Dunhuang in UK Collections (Shanghai: Donghua University Press, 2007)
  • Claire Wilcox, Vivienne Westwood, Chinese version (2005)
  • Verity Wilson, Chinese textiles (V&A Publishing, 2005)
  • Rose Kerr, Song Dynasty Ceramics (V&A Publishing, 2004)
  • Ming Wilson, Chinese Jades (V&A Publishing, 2004) Ming Wilson and Zhiwei Lin (eds.), with a foreword by Mark Jones and Andrea Rose, Souvenir from Canton: Chinese export paintings from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Chinese version (Shanghai: Shanghai Classics Publishing House, 2003)