Fascinating objects from Far East at Weston Park

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STEP over the threshold into Weston Park’s main exhibition space and travel more than 5,000 miles east, to China.

Here, huge Chinese dragons, intricately-crafted ivories, shadow puppets, 2,000-year-old terracotta teapots and chess sets will greet you as you enter the museum’s Harold Cantor Gallery.

ChinaRC

ChinaRC

If you can’t make it to China itself, this is the next best thing.

This is, after all, China: Journey to the East, one of Weston Park’s most ambitious exhibitions of the year.

The museum has put together the exhibition using artefacts sourced from the British Museum and Museums Sheffield’s own collection.

It is divided into five themes – food and drink, festivals and beliefs, play and performance, writing and language and technology and innovation.

ChinaRC - vase from the collection

ChinaRC - vase from the collection

Objects range from clay-modelled food offerings for the afterlife to stunning ivories, such as a beautifully-carved ivory vessel from 1700-1800 which is decorated with the Chinese god of wealth’.

This curious jar-like object shows the god of wealth sitting with a string of coins and a three- legged toad.

But this particular deity has an enviable speciality: armed with his three-legged amphibian, he can travel anywhere in the universe and fish money from the sea to give to the poor.

Then there is the ‘cricket tickler’, the curator’s favourite object.

Ancient Chinese artifacts go on show at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield... 'Museums Sheffield's senior exhibition curator Teresa Whitaker looking at Ivory and wood Buddist figures china 1700-1800 in their display case   See Story Jeni Harvey Picture by Chris Lawton'14 Dec 2011

Ancient Chinese artifacts go on show at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield... 'Museums Sheffield's senior exhibition curator Teresa Whitaker looking at Ivory and wood Buddist figures china 1700-1800 in their display case See Story Jeni Harvey Picture by Chris Lawton'14 Dec 2011

“It’s a vessel made from ivory and gourd especially made to contain crickets,” says Teresa Whittaker.

“Once inside the container they are then ‘tickled’ with a tickler – a stick with fine animal hair at the end. People collect crickets in China for the insects’ sounds and when ‘tickled’ they make a lot of noise.”

The cricket tickler, which belongs to Museums Sheffield, dates back to the 1800s.

Teresa said; “Our oldest object dates back to 900BC and our most up-to-date was brought back from China last year.

“It’s been really nice having objects from our world collection on display.”

Weston Park has also been loaned a selection of contemporary and historical pictures of China from the Confucius Institute, a non-profit organisation that aims to promote Chinese culture across the globe.

The pictures, displayed on a digital screen, show China in all its glory – from vast dramatic landscapes to busy bustling streets.

“Looking at these pictures has definitely made me want to go to China,” says Teresa.

The Confucius Institute is aligned with the University of Sheffield and runs a variety of classes such as calligraphy, Chinese dance and Mandarin.

“It’s been great working with them,” says Teresa. “They have done a lot to help us, such as putting on workshops and events here at the museum to support the exhibition.”

And, like many ancient civilisations, China has a tradition of belief in the afterlife.

Therefore, much the same as with Ancient Egypt, there was widespread practice of funerary rites and customs which have evolved.

Taking one’s earthly assets to the grave, in order to retain them after death, was a practice in China that continued up until the 17th century.

The crude clay-formed dishes in the exhibition’s ‘food and drink’ section, were made to be taken to the afterlife.

“These are among many of my favourite objects in the museum,” says Teresa.

And it’s not hard to see why. There are a range of dishes on offer at this child-like miniature banquet, including pork – symbolised by a full pig stretched across a plate, lamb – again, depicted as an entire sheep lying across a dish, and a meatless fishbone – a less promising meal for the hungry dead.

The dishes, though crude in style, were most likely intended for a wealthy family, Teresa explains.

But China: Journey to the East, is not just about a bygone China, it celebrates the country’s rich contemporary culture as well.

The exhibition is on until April and to celebrate the Chinese New Year this weekend, Weston Park is hosting a number of China-inspired events on Saturday, January 21 from 11.30am until around 3pm.