British Museum’s Ming Exhibition – November Highlights

Gold. About 1400–50. Nanjing or Beijing. © Trustees of the British Museum
Gold. About 1400–50. Nanjing or Beijing. © Trustees of the British Museum

The BP exhibition at the British Museum explores the years 1400 – 1450, a pivotal 50 year period that transformed China during the rule of the Ming dynasty. Bureaucrats replace military leaders in the hierarchy of power, the emperor’s role changes from autocrat to icon, and the decision is taken to centralise, rather than devolve, power. The exhibition includes rare loans of some of the finest objects ever made in China, shedding light on this important part of world history that is little known in Europe. China’s internal transformation and connections with the rest of the world led to a flourishing of creativity from what was, at the time, the only global superpower.

November Highlights 

Thursday 6 November

Clarissa von Spee, British Museum, introduces some examples of Chinese painting from around the 14th to 16th centuries, with a focus on the early Ming dynasty.

Friday 7 November

Come and listen to extracts ofshengguan music – exquisite and plaintive instrumental music that accompanied Buddhist and Daoist rituals throughout northern China.

For over twenty generations until the 1950s, the monks of the Zhihua temple (‘Temple of Wisdom Attained’) were the most prestigious transmitters of this music in Beijing. The performers tonight learnt from the last generation of elderly former monks. Introduced by Stephen Jones, specialist in ritual music in northern China, the music features guanzi(oboe), sheng (mouth organ), dizi (bamboo flute) and yunluo (ten small pitched gongs mounted in a frame).

Saturday 8 November

A Ming secret policeman defends the dynasty against his traitorous boss, in this film which interrogates Hong Kong directors’ previous metaphoric use of the late Ming. Donnie Yen and Vicki Zhao Wei star in this action blockbuster.

Friday 14 November

Zheng He (1371–1433) is a crucial character in the early Ming period.

Between 1405 and 1433 he led seven official missions from China to kingdoms around the Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia to East Africa. In this lecture, Elizabeth Lambourn, De Montfort University, Leicester, paints a picture of the hugely varied cultures Zheng He encountered during these voyages.

Experience the pleasures of the early Ming court in this evening of performance, demonstrations, talks and workshops. Catch a set of Kunqu opera from The Peony Pavilion, meet China’s first giraffe on the 600th anniversary of its arrival at the imperial court, join a Qi Gong demonstration, listen to zither performances and practice the art of calligraphy among other courtly delights!

Fuchsia Dunlop, award-winning cook and food writer specialising in Chinese cuisine, explores regional dishes that have roots in the Ming period, tracing tastes and techniques from early 15th-century Chinese recipes.

Fuchsia is the author of four books, includingShark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China and Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. Her work has appeared in the Financial Times, Observer Food Monthly and the New Yorker, and she consults for Barshu restaurant in London.

Saturday 15 November

Project Curator Yu-Ping Luk gives a 45-minute illustrated introduction to the BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China. This event will be BSL interpreted.

Wednesday 19 November

A gallery talk by Mei Xin Wang, British Museum.

Friday 21 November

It can be argued that the early Ming period was China’s ‘Renaissance’. Radical change in governance and the ruling class, economic boom, cultural achievements, and Zheng He’s great international sea voyages, all developed in parallel with the achievements of the European Renaissance.

Chaired by Dora Thornton, Curator of Renaissance Collections at the British Museum, this discussion will examine the early 15th century from eastern and western perspectives, and will include panellists Craig Clunas, Exhibition co-Curator and Professor of the History of Art, University of Oxford, Tian Yuan Tan, Reader in Chinese Studies, SOAS, and Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies, King’s College London.

Friday 28 November

A gallery talk by Alexandra Green, British Museum.

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