Explore key developments in the history and culture of China, from the arts and crafts of the Song Dynasty up to the present day.
China is the size of a continent, and its national borders and ethnic composition have not always been the same as they are today. A single writing system gave a degree of cultural unity, enabling communication across time and distance.
By the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279) the civil service exams opened positions of power to those beyond the ruling elite. Further change came with innovations in navigation, agriculture, mining and particularly printing, and through developments in political thought. Changes in the economy led to more widespread prosperity and greater social mobility.
These Song dynasty transformations laid a foundation for culture and society over the next millennium. They influenced later scholars, collectors and consumers in ways that can be seen in many of the objects displayed in this gallery.