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The Oriental Museum’s Chinese collections include more than 10,000 objects, with particular strengths in ceramics and jade and hardstone carvings.

The ceramic collection of around 1,000 pieces ranges in date from the Neolithic (around 2500 BCE) through to contemporary works by leading ceramic artists such as Li Lihong and Zhu Le Geng. More than 400 pieces from the collection were originally owned by the Rt. Hon. Malcolm MacDonald (1901-1981) who collected fine examples from the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. These include several imperial ceramics which would have been used by members of the Emperor’s household.

The Museum’s collection of Chinese jade and hardstones is one of the largest in the UK and consists of more than 2,000 pieces. Jade has long been used in China for burial, ritual, decorative and practical uses. The collection was developed by Sir Charles Hardinge (1878-1968) who had a strong interest in early burial jades, and the late Gerard Arnhold who amassed a considerable collection of extremely high-quality Ming and Qing dynasty pieces.

The largest object in the Museum’s collections, and a firm favourite with visitors, is the magnificent bed with carved boxwood and ivory panels, dating to the first half of the 19th century.

The collection also includes:

  • Painting and calligraphy on silk and paper

  • Paper cuts and paintings on pith

  • Ink rubbings

  • Woodcut prints by some of China’s leading late 20th and early 21st century artists

  • Carvings in ivory, bamboo, wood and tortoiseshell

  • Costume, including embroidered silk dragon robes, footwear, headgear and ethnic minority costume

  • 19th and early 20th century photography

  • Ancient bronzes

The importance of this Chinese collection was formally recognised in 2008 when it was awarded elite Designated Collection status in recognition of its national and international significance. This international status was further confirmed in 2016, when Durham University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Palace Museum, Beijing.

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Search Durham collections using our online database. Explore items from the Oriental Museum displays and our research collections.

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To mark the 50th anniversary of the acquisition of the Malcolm Macdonald collection of Chinese ceramics, the Oriental Museum has launched a book charting the fascinating life of politician, diplomat, collector and former Durham University Chancellor, Rt Hon Malcolm MacDonald. Find out more.