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.