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The Collection and Exhibition of Chinese Art in Durham
Perception and Interpretation of Chinese Art through Chinese Collections in the Oriental Museum

ZHANG, BOYA (2022) The Collection and Exhibition of Chinese Art in Durham
Perception and Interpretation of Chinese Art through Chinese Collections in the Oriental Museum.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Full text not available from this repository.
Author-imposed embargo until 21 April 2025.


Britain is widely recognised as the home of many significant collections of Chinese art, such as the Chinese collections in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Ashmolean Museum. The inception and development of these collections showcases the long history of engagement with Chinese art in Britain. The Chinese collection at the Oriental Museum of Durham University, as an institutional collection of considerable quantity and of a very high-standard of quality, however, compared with other well-known Chinese collections in Britain, it has been scarcely studied. The aim of this thesis, therefore, was to provide a supplementary history of collecting and exhibiting Chinese art at the Oriental Museum, Durham University. It firstly investigates the collecting and researching activities of two major donors, i.e., Rt. Hon. Malcolm MacDonald (1901-1981) and Sir Charles E. Hardinge (1878-1968), and then explores the development in the narrative of the Chinese exhibition at two galleries of the Oriental Museum.

The primary materials that uphold this thesis come from multiple sources, that include archived papers from the Oriental Museum and the Special Collections of the Palace Green Library at Durham University, archived government documents from the National Archives based in Kew, and the Chinese collection exhibitions organised by the former School of Oriental Studies and the Oriental Museum.

“Biography of object” developed by Arjun Appadurai, Igor Kopytoff and Janet Hoskins, together with Bourdieu’s concepts of “capital and habitus”, is applied as the theoretical framework to illuminate the social-cultural meanings of selected Chinese objects from two collections by two British collectors: the Chinese ceramics collection from the Rt. Hon. Malcolm MacDonald (1901-1981), a British politician and diplomat; and the carved jades collection from Sir Charles E. Hardinge (1878-1968), the fifth Baronet of Belle Isle, Fermanagh. Both collections were donated to the Oriental Museum in the mid-20th century, and have been carefully selected and thoughtfully exhibited in the museum at different times. Through meticulous and comprehensive case studies, the socio-economic and educational backgrounds of these two collectors are presented, as well as their initial interests and motivations for collecting Chinese objects, their cultivation of taste in Chinese objects, and how their collecting activities were influenced by socio-political and economic change and the Sino-British relationship at that time.

Bourdieu’s (1984, p. 2) notion of “perception” is applied to analyse the changing narrative of the Chinese exhibition at the Oriental Museum. By means of a careful examination of the exhibition methods and information texts (archive papers and newspapers for the first exhibition, information boards and sheets for the second exhibition), strong evidence was accumulated that the progressive narrative and interpretation of Chinese exhibitions in the Oriental Museum was greatly influenced by the concurrent developments off the research of Chinese art in Britain, and significantly impacted by the development of exhibition strategies in museum studies.

The conclusion of this study is that the case study on Malcolm MacDonald reveals that a collector’s collecting motivation can be greatly shaped by his knowledge of art and history, and collecting activity can be influenced by international politics and relations. The case study on Charles Hardinge indicates that a collector’s collecting activity can be motivated and guided by his educational background and research expertise. Finally, by tracing the changing narrative of Chinese exhibition in 1956, 1960 and 2010, this thesis explores the curators’ changing perception and interpretation of Chinese art.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Chinese art, Chinese collections, the perception and interpretation of art, biography of object, narrative of exhibition, the Oriental Museum
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Apr 2022 09:35

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