China’s hidden century

1796 - 1912


The first genre-spanning study of how Chinese cultural creativity during the long final century of the Qing empire (1796-1912) demonstrated extraordinary resilience amid exceptional levels of violence and political turmoil.

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ISBN: 9780714124933 Category:


‘Handsomely illustrated’ – Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide

‘The book is a resounding success… a valuable guide to laypeople, students and scholars on the late Qing for years to come.’ – SEHEPUNKTE

‘The exhibition catalogue’s seven essays…are a guide to [a] re-reading of the past, threading the relics on display into a rich tapestry of what life entailed under the last century of Manchu reign.’ – Rhoda Kwan, The Mekong Review

Cultural creativity in China between 1796 and 1912 demonstrated extraordinary resilience at a time of intense external and internal warfare and socioeconomic turmoil. Innovation can be seen in material culture (including print, painting, calligraphy, textiles, fashion, jewellery, ceramics, lacquer, glass, arms and armour, silver, and photography) during a century in which China’s art, literature, crafts and technology faced unprecedented exposure to global influences.

1796 – the official end of the reign of the Qianlong emperor – is viewed as the close of the ‘high Qing’ and the start of a period of protracted crisis. In 1912, the last emperor, Puyi, abdicated after the revolution of 1911, bringing to an end some 2,000 years of dynastic rule and making way for the republic.

Until recently the 19th century in China has been often defined – and dismissed – as an era of cultural decline. Built on new research from a four-year project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and with chapter contributions by international scholars from leading institutions, this beautifully illustrated, 336-page book edited by Jessica Harrison-Hall and Julia Lovell sets out a fresh understanding of this important era. It presents a stunning array of objects and artworks to create a detailed visual account of responses to war, technology, urbanisation, political transformations and external influences.

Additional information

Weight 2172 g
Dimensions 26 x 28.7 cm
Publisher name The British Museum Press
Publication date 20 August 2023
Number of pages 336
Format Hardback
Contributors Edited by Jessica Harrison-Hall and Julia Lovell
Dimensions 26 x 28.7 cm
Weight 2172 g


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Jessica Harrison-Hall is curator of the exhibition China's hidden century and Head of the China Section, Curator of the Sir Percival David Collections, and of Chinese Decorative Arts and Ceramics at the British Museum. Her latest book China: A History in Objects (2017) is available in 6 languages internationally.

Julia Lovell is Professor of Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. Her book The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China won the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature in 2012 and her book Maoism: A Global History won the 2019 Cundill History Prize. She is a regular contributor to the BBC and national press.

Other contributors:
Mei Mei Rado is Assistant Professor of History of Dress, Textiles and Decorative Arts, Bard Graduate Center.
Stephen R. Platt is Professor of Chinese History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Chia-ling Yang is Professor of Chinese Art, University of Edinburgh.
Anne Gerritsen is Professor of History, University of Warwick.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chancellor's Professor of History, University of California, Irvine.
Wenyuan Xin is Project Curator for the exhibition China's hidden century.