Mother and daughter in Room 33

Room 33

China and South Asia

Prehistory – present
The Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily: 10.00–17.00 (Fridays: 20.30)
See full opening hours

Gallery audio guides

Listen on the Audio app, available on the App Store and Google Play.

This gallery explores the cultures of China and South Asia through a range of magnificent objects.

One half of the gallery presents the histories of China from 5000 BC to the present: from iconic Ming dynasty blue-and-white porcelain to delicate handscrolls, from magnificent Tang dynasty tomb figurines to modern works of art. The displays feature the richness of art and material culture in China, including painting, prints, jade, bronze, lacquer and ceramics.

The other half of the gallery presents South Asia's many histories chronologically and by region, from early human occupation to the present. Highlights include seals from the Indus civilisation, superb south Indian sculptures of Shiva and one of the finest statues of the goddess Tara from Sri Lanka. Sophisticated paintings and objects from the courts of the Mughal emperors can be seen alongside 20th-century paintings, including by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Gallery facts

  • China is one of the world's oldest civilisations. Today it covers a vast territory the size of Europe and is home to a quarter of the world's population.
  • China has produced a highly distinctive culture with beautifully crafted objects made on an industrial scale from the earliest times. 
  • Room 33 examines the past 7,000 years of China's history, exploring the themes of writing systems, rituals, beliefs, war, international trade and more. 
  • Room 33 also explores South Asia's history, from 1.5 million years ago to the present day. Trade, exchange, migration and political power are some of the themes examined. 
  • South Asia spans India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Tibetan plateau and Sri Lanka.
  • The region is home to numerous ancient and modern languages, such as Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi and Urdu. The Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Islamic faiths have inspired magnificent architecture, sculpture, painting, literature and music.

Ming and Qing representations of Chinese officials

9 December 2023 – 2 June 2024

From the late 500s AD until the end of imperial China in 1912, a male scholar's main path to career success was to become a government official, by taking civil service examinations. This new temporary display highlights artworks from the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties that relate to the careers of officials.

Among the works on display are a large-scale painting of an official standing in front of the Forbidden City by Zhu Bang (active 1500s), a representation of the story of Xie An (AD 320–385) who calmly played a board game while waiting for news from a battle, and a scene of officials enjoying poetry at an elegant gathering made in the 1700s. Also on display is a handscroll of calligraphy written by Fan Jingwen (1587–1644), a Grand Secretary of the Ming dynasty, who committed suicide when the dynasty fell to the Manchus.

In addition to this display, the modern and contemporary case in the gallery will feature a new rotation of woodblock prints by Ma Desheng (born 1952) and a new acquisition of a calligraphic work by Gu Gan (1942–2020).

Visiting information

This display is free to visit, just book a timed slot in advance to guarantee entry to the Museum and drop in.


  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language multimedia guide. This resource is temporarily unavailable. You can access a selection of BSL films on your own device.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available on Soundcloud.
  • Seating is available.
  • View sensory map.

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.