WE are used to hearing that China is the fastest growing economy in the world but a new exhibition opening at Weston Park demonstrates that its global influence is nothing new.
China: Journey to the East, opening on Saturday, explores 3,000 years of Chinese culture and innovation through a display of remarkable objects from the British Museum and from Museums Sheffield’s own collection.
The insight into one of the world’s most ancient civilisations reveals that many of the technologies and ideas we now take for granted began as Chinese exports.
The display of more than 100 Chinese artefacts is divided into five themes - language and writing, festivals and beliefs, play and performance, food and drink and technology and innovation – all delineated by graphics by Sheffield-born and Manchester-based artist Jonny Wan, who also designed the striking poster image, bringing a contemporary aspect to China: Journey to the East.
Teresa Whittaker, Senior Exhibition Curator at Museums Sheffield, said: “After a couple of interactive shows it is nice to be presenting an objects-rich cultural show. I don’t think we have had this many items on show in the gallery before.”
Among the artefacts from the British Museum on display in the exhibition will be a 3000 year old fang ding, a food container placed in tombs for the dead to use in their journey to the spirit realm, and an 18th-century example of a compass, perhaps one of the most significant Chinese inventions, along with the abacus and gunpowder.
Highlights will also include Ming Dynasty ceramics depicting Chinese warrior gods and immortals, an ornate 17th century porcelain model theatre and a bronze mirror from around 1000 AD linked to the Chinese Moon Festival.
The exhibition will also feature a variety of traditional Chinese games and musical instruments dating from the 1600s -1900s.
Among quirkier items are a brick from the Great Wall of China, a cricket tickler and a tiger pillow.
China: Journey to the East is on the last leg of a major national tour and the Sheffield exhibition represents the last opportunity to see these remarkable objects together outside London before they return to the British Museum in 2012.
Distinctive to the Weston Park show, however, are examples of Sheffield’s own Chinese Grice Ivories alongside a selection from the city’s decorative art and world cultures collections.
Photographic images of contemporary China have been lent by the Confucius Institute and there will be British Pathe newsreels running on a loop in the gallery showing pre-war China.
Interactive elements include a smell box of spices, the chance to discover the story of the Chinese New Year, a puppet theatre and a dressing up box with replicas of traditional Chinese costumes.
A programme of events related to the exhibition have been organised including a Chinese New Year Weekend to welcome the Year of the Dragon on January 21-22 and a Chinese Lantern Festival on the weekend of February 4-5.
China: Journey to the East, which runs until April 9 at Weston Park Museum, is part of the Partnership UK programme, a series of touring exhibitions promoting understanding between different cultures in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.