A cultural exchange between the British Library and partner institutions in China

Treasures of the British Library is a joint exhibition at the National Library of China (NLC) in Beijing, opening on 21 April 2017 and featuring a range of the greatest treasures of English literature, from Charles Dickens’ manuscript for Nicholas Nickleby and Charlotte Brontë’s ‘fair copy’ manuscript of Jane Eyre to an early Quarto edition of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the draft of William Wordsworth’s Daffodils.

The Beijing exhibition will also include classics that have become hugely popular in China through film and TV adaptations, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter and Ian Fleming’s James Bond story The Living Daylights.

The British Library manuscripts will be displayed alongside National Library of China items including translations, adaptations and critical responses that showcase the long and productive dialogue between English and Chinese literature and culture. Visitors will be able to see the 1598 Quarto edition of Romeo and Juliet, once owned by King George III, side by side with a Ming Dynasty print copy of The Peony Pavilion, by Shakespeare’s Chinese contemporary Tang Xianzu.

The exhibition, which runs from 21 April to 21 June 2017, launches a much wider three-year programme of cultural exchange, The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning. Made possible by £1.6 million of funding from the UK Government, the programme includes a series of pop-up exhibitions that will subsequently be held in locations around China, including Wuzhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong, through to 2019.

A website specifically designed for Chinese audiences will be launched when the exhibition opens. Based on the Library’s hugely successful Discovering Literature resource, the Chinese language site will feature over 200 digitised items and more than 60 interpretive essays focusing on iconic authors and works from the British Library’s collections. Many of the essays at www.britishlibrary.cn will be original material commissioned from Chinese writers. The Library has also launched a WeChat channel to reach as wide a public as possible in China.

The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning will also include a structured programme of knowledge exchange between the Library and institutions in China, with curatorial and other specialists sharing skills, expertise and knowledge during the course of the project.

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said: “One of the British Library’s core purposes is to work with international partners to advance knowledge and mutual understanding. The manuscripts and early editions included in Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library are among the most iconic in English and indeed world literature, and we are delighted to be working with the National Library of China to share them with people in China for the first time ever. This ambitious cultural dialogue includes a new website, our programme of institutional knowledge exchange and subsequent pop-up exhibitions in cities around China. We hope it will expose our collections to audiences in China as never before, and forge long-term reciprocal relationships with partner institutions across East Asia.”

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