Ming: 50 Years that Changed China

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Cloisonné enamel jar and cover with dragons. Metal with cloisonné enamels, Xuande mark and period (1426-1435), Beijing. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase--Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program, and partial gift of Richard G. Pritzlaff, S1991.77
Sword and scabbard with inscription. Iron, gold, silver, wood and leather. Yongle era about 1420, Beijing. © Royal Armouries
Paper money. Ink on paper. Issued in 1375. British Museum, donated by Emily Georgina Hingley. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Handscroll, ink and colours on silk. Xuande period, 1426–1435. Anonymous. © The Palace Museum, Beijing
Crown. Leather, woven bamboo, lacquer and semiprecious stones. c. 1380. Image courtesy of Shandong Museum
Ming prince’s ‘dragon robe’. Silk, c. 1389. Excavated from the tomb of Zhu Tan (1370-1389), Prince Huang of Lu at Yanzhou, Shandong province. © Shandong Museum
Carved red lacquer on wood core, Yongle mark and period 1403-24, South China. Diameter 34.8 cm © The Trustees of the British Museum
Porcelain bottle with underglaze cobalt blue decoration. Yongle era, 1403-1424. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Head ornament. Gold. About 1400–50. Nanjing or Beijing. © Trustees of the British Museum
Anonymous, ‘Tribute giraffe with attendant’. Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk. Dated 1414. Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The notion of China as a global superpower is nothing new, as this blockbuster in the British Museum's new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery will show, but during these five key decades of the Ming Dynasty (1400-1450) China was the only such global player. The country's creativity and level of engagement with the outside world was unparalleled at this time, with gifts sent everywhere from Kyoto to Iran, from Mecca to Mogadishu.

The exhibition will draw together some of the world's most beautiful objects, with loans from more than 20 collections across the world, to explain how China became the country it is. During the Ming era, China's current boundaries were established, the capital was moved to Beijing (where the Forbidden City was built) and an extraordinary bureaucracy was set up to centralise power around the Emperor.

But despite the increase in centralised Imperial power, there was an extraordinary diversity in Ming China, demonstrated by artefacts (including costumes) from princely tombs in Sichuan, Shandong and Hubei, as well as objects representing each of the period's four emperors: the Yongle Emperor's sword, official documents written by the Hongxi emperor, paintings by the Xuande emperor, and portraits of regents of the Zhengtong boy emperor.

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Dave A

I like the British Museum. But I didn't expect to pay such a high price of £16.50 per person to see an exhibit. So I didn't go in. 

Victoria A

I love visiting the British Museum. It is bid and plenty to see. Very educational. I have visited it several times. I enjoyed the guided tour at the Chinese art section. The guide was funny, informative and interesting.