Lonely Planet Writer

Australian and Chinese national libraries collaborate on new exhibition

An exhibition three years in the making has opened at the National Library of Australia. Celestial Empire, collaboration with the National Library of China, explores what life was like for Chinese at all levels of society during the Qing Dynasty.

National Library, Australia.
National Library, Australia. Image by Ryan Wick / CC BY 2.0

Using mainly printed products – including maps, books, prints and poetry – the exhibition covers life at court and life in the villages from 1644 to 1911. Each institution contributed around half of the 170 items on display, which include highlights such as drawings and plans for Beijing’s iconic palaces and items from the London Missionary Society providing some of the first Western impressions of China.

The exhibition marks a number of firsts: it’s the first bilingual exhibition at the National Library of Australia (signs are in English and Chinese), the first time many of the items displayed have left China, and the first collaboration between the two mighty institutions. It’s also the largest exhibition the National Library of China has mounted overseas.

Richard Neumann, a deputy representative of the Australian Office in Taipei, saw the exhibition on a recent visit home. “They say when you study China, one lifetime is not enough,” he told Australia’s ABC. “But having this fantastic material that hasn’t been shown here before in Australia and is very difficult to see on public exhibition anywhere in the world, it opens up your eyes to a large part of China’s history that isn’t really well known.”

The exhibition opened on Saturday at the National Library of Australia in Canberra and will run until 22 May.