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.

Daoist figures in Chinese paintings and prints

10 December 2022 – 1 June 2023

Discover depictions of various figures that populate the Chinese system of philosophy and religion, Daoism, in this new temporary display. 

The works include a painting by Qian Gu (1508 to about 1578) of Laozi, an ancient sage who was traditionally identified as the author of Daodejing (The Book of the Way and Its Virtue), compiled from earlier sources by about 300–200 BC. This introduces the concept of dao or 'the Way'. A handscroll by You Qiu (a.1600s) portrays Ge Hong (AD 283–343), a government official and writer of early Daoist texts, moving his residence to the mountains. Album leaves by the Qing court painter Leng Mei (1669–1742) show different male and female immortals. Other paintings and prints introduce popular deities, such as the Gods of Literature and the Gods of Wealth. 

Also on display are modern and contemporary works recently acquired by the Museum, including drawings by Qu Leilei (b.1951), photographs from the first Stars Group Art Exhibition in 1979 and a dream-like etching by Su Xinping (b.1960).

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.