Collecting and Displaying China's “Summer Palace” in the West: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Collecting and Displaying China's “Summer Palace” in the West

The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France, 1st Edition

Edited by Louise Tythacott


172 pages | 35 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2017-10-31
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In October 1860, at the culmination of the Second Opium War, British and French troops looted and destroyed one of the most important palace complexes in imperial China—the Yuanmingyuan. Known in the West as the "Summer Palace," this site consisted of thousands of buildings housing a vast art collection. It is estimated that over a million objects may have been taken from the palaces in the Yuanmingyuan—and many of these are now scattered around the world, in private collections and public museums. With contributions from leading specialists, this is the first book to focus on the collecting and display of "Summer Palace" material over the past 150 years in museums in Britain and France. It examines the way museums placed their own cultural, political and aesthetic concerns upon Yuanmingyuan material, and how displays—especially those at the Royal Engineers Museum in Kent, the National Museum of Scotland and the Musée Chinois at the Château of Fontainebleau—tell us more about European representations and images of China, than they do about the Yuanmingyuan itself.


"The history of modern Sino-European relations is still insufficiently known, yet it is of such vital importance to an understanding of China's place and self-positioning in the world today. This volume of essays on Yuanmingyuan by leading and pioneering authors on the topic expertly guide readers through controversial terrain. They provide often unpublished new materials and original perspectives that will generate new scholarship in a lively field of inquiry."

--Ting Chang, University of Nottingham

"The fate of the objects from Beijing’s Summer Palace – including their roles in shaping Western views of China and ongoing debates about repatriation – is an immensely interesting and important subject. This book is very welcome for opening up these questions and bringing new scholarly depth to the debates."

--Sharon Macdonald, Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

"This collection of essays by ten authors brings together collection- and object-focussed studies on aspects of the 1860 partial destruction by Anglo-French forces of the Yuanmingyuan, the large and magnificent complex of palaces and gardens built by and for the Qing emperors between 1709 and 1783. …This is a useful and extremely thorough collection."

--Beth McKillop, The Oriental Ceramic Society Newsletter

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Figures


List of Contributors

Part I: Overviews

1. The Yuanmingyuan and its Objects

Louise Tythacott

2. The Afterlives of a Ruin: The Yuanmingyuan in China and the West

James L. Hevia

3. From The Summer Palace 1860: Provenance and Politics

Nick Pearce

Part II: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain

4. The Yuanmingyuan and Design Reform in Britain

Kate Hill

5. "True Beauty of Form and Chaste Embellishment": Summer Palace Loot and Chinese Porcelain Collecting in Nineteenth-century Britain

Stacey Pierson

6. "Chinese Gordon" and the Royal Engineers Museum

James Scott

7. "Rose-water Upon His Delicate Hands": Imperial and Imperialist Readings of the Hope Grant Ewer

Kevin McLoughlin

Part III: The Yuanmingyuan in France

8. Henri Bertin (1720-1792) and Images of the Yuanmingyuan in Eighteenth-century France

John Finlay

9. Empress Eugénie’s Chinese Museum at the Château of Fontainebleau: An Unusual Décor in the "House of the Ages"

Vincent Droguet

10. Yuanmingyuan on Display: Ornamental Aesthetics at the Musée Chinois

Greg M. Thomas


About the Editor

Louise Tythacott is Senior Lecturer in Curating and Museology of Asian Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her books include Surrealism and the Exotic, The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display and Museums and Restitution: New Practices, New Approaches.

About the Series

The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700-1950

The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting provides a forum for the broad study of object acquisition and collecting practices in their global dimensions from 1700 to 1950. The series seeks to illuminate the intersections between material culture studies, art history, and the history of collecting. It takes as its starting point the idea that objects both contributed to the formation of knowledge in the past and likewise contribute to our understanding of the past today. The human relationship to objects has proven a rich field of scholarly inquiry, with much recent scholarship either anthropological or sociological rather than art historical in perspective. Underpinning this series is the idea that the physical nature of objects contributes substantially to their social meanings, and therefore that the visual, tactile, and sensual dimensions of objects are critical to their interpretation. This series therefore seeks to bridge anthropology and art history, sociology and aesthetics. It encompasses the following areas of concern: 1. Material culture in its broadest dimension, including the high arts of painting and sculpture, the decorative arts (furniture, ceramics, metalwork, etc.), and everyday objects of all kinds. 2. Collecting practices, be they institutionalized activities associated with museums, governmental authorities, and religious entities, or collecting done by individuals and social groups. 3. The role of objects in defining self, community, and difference in an increasingly international and globalized world, with cross-cultural exchange and travel the central modes of object transfer. 4. Objects as constitutive of historical narratives, be they devised by historical figures seeking to understand their past or in the form of modern scholarly narratives. The series publishes interdisciplinary and comparative research on objects that addresses one or more of these perspectives and includes monographs, thematic studies, and edited volumes of essays.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / Collections, Catalogs, Exhibitions / General
ART / Collections, Catalogs, Exhibitions / Permanent Collections
ART / History / General
ART / European
ART / Asian
ART / Art & Politics
ART / Museum Studies
HISTORY / Asia / China
HISTORY / Europe / France
HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain
HISTORY / Modern / 18th Century
HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural