Exhibiting China in London

Barnes, Amy Jane (2011). Exhibiting China in London. In: Knell, Simon J.; Aronsson, Peter; Amunsden, Arne Bugge; Barnes, Amy Jane; Burch, Stuart; Carter, Jennifer; Gosselin, Viviane; Hughes, Sarah A. and Kirwan, Alan eds. National Museums: New Studies from Around the World. Routledge, pp. 386–399.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315787312

Abstract

The Opium Wars had been forced by Britain in retaliation for the Chinese court's refusal to allow the legal importation of opium from the Indian poppy fields. In the wake of the Opium Wars, and coinciding with colonial expansion and heightened popular patriotism and confidence in the British Empire, ideas about China began to shift from the admiration of the previous centuries. This chapter argues that this new, negative attitude was consolidated by the international exhibitions and newly established public museums that became such a defining feature of Victorian cultural life. In turn, exhibitions reflected back a particular self-image and conception of British nationhood. The chapter focuses upon the now little-known Celebrated Chinese Collection, but also considers the display of Chinese material at the Great Exhibition of 1851; the South Kensington Museum; and the symbolic representation of China at the Albert Memorial.

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