Ming: 50 Years that Changed China – exhibition reviews

'Magnificent' British Museum show dazzles with 'Ming bling' but also raises some historical questions

Portrait of Yang Hong (1381-1451), Ming Dynasty
(Image credit: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C)

What you need to know

A new exhibition of Chinese art and artefacts, Ming: 50 Years that Changed China, opens today at the British Musuem, London. The exhibition focuses on a fifty-year period in China's history from 1400–1450, under the Ming dynasty.

During this period, China's modern borders were established and Beijing became the capital. The Ming dynasty emperors also extended their country's international connections and instituted a broad range of cultural changes resulting in a flourishing of the arts.

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The exhibition features loans of rare objects from the period including silk paintings, porcelain, gold and silverware, weapons, costumes and furniture. Runs until 4 January.

What the critics like

This "magnificent new exhibition" dazzles with the expected "Ming bling," but also has plenty of surprises, says Alastair Sooke in the Daily Telegraph. It is an exemplary show with plenty of documentary information, organised with great care and intelligence, elucidating complex ideas without dumbing anything down.

"This is the new world that Christopher Columbus dreamed of," and the treasures he might have found there, says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. It's all beautiful, from red lacquer cabinets dripping with ornate decoration to Imperial silk clothes perfectly preserved in tombs.

"This is a show to smash clichés as surely as some apocryphal Ming vase," says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. Section by section, like one of the spectacular scrolls on display, it unfurls an increasingly fascinating picture of a lost culture.

What they don't like

There are some stunning things here, but the exhibition is misleading in that it "provides no historical context" for its bold claims, says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. It suggests that the Ming era invented modern Chinese culture, when in reality it aspired to ancient standards set centuries earlier.

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