Ink and colour picture showing the head and shoulders of an elderly Chinese woman with her hair tied back. She is wearing green earrings and a blue jacket decorated with gold leaves around the neck.

Past exhibition


18 May – 8 October 2023

Room 30

The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery

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For the catalogue, homewares and gifts from the exhibition, visit the British Museum Shop.

In a global first, the resilience and innovation of 19th-century China was revealed in a major exhibition.

Between 1796 and 1912 Qing China endured numerous civil uprisings and foreign wars, with revolution ultimately bringing an end to some 2,000 years of dynastic rule and giving way to a modern Chinese republic. This period of violence and turmoil was also one of extraordinary creativity, driven by political, cultural and technological change. In the shadow of these events lie stories of remarkable individuals – at court, in armies, in booming cosmopolitan cities and on the global stage. 

The exhibition was underpinned by a four-year research project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and led by the British Museum and London University, in collaboration with over 100 scholars from 14 countries.

Exquisite objects were brought together for the first time – from cloisonné vases given by the Last Emperor's court to King George and Queen Mary for their coronation in 1911, to a silk robe commissioned by the Empress Dowager Cixi. The show illuminated the lives of individuals – an empress, a dancer, a soldier, an artist, a housewife, a merchant and a diplomat. 

Visitors glimpsed the textures of life in 19th-century China through art, fashion, newspapers, furniture – even soup ingredients. Many people not only survived but thrived in this tumultuous world. New art forms, such as photography and lithographic printing, flourished while technology and transport – the telegraph, electricity, railways – transformed society.

This extraordinary exhibition opened a new page in public understanding of late imperial China.

China's hidden century trailer

Exhibition trailer for 'China's hidden century'.




Exhibition supporters

Lead supporter

City bank logo

We believe that by understanding the past, we all have the opportunity to define the future. In the Citi exhibition, China’s hidden century, the Museum uses its fabulous collection, together with loans from over 30 lenders, to bring to life, in a global first, the phenomenal cultural creativity of 19th-century China.  

As the world’s most global bank, our mission is to serve as a trusted partner to our clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth and economic progress. Success in our mission is only possible if we can continue to foster a culture of equality and inclusion that enables and encourages diversity of thinking.

Additional supporter

The Huo Family Foundation logo

The Huo Family Foundation's mission is to support education, communities and the pursuit of knowledge. Through its donations, the Foundation hopes to improve the prospects of individuals, and to support the work of organisations seeking to ensure a safe and successful future for all society.