Treasures of the East go on show in Edinburgh

One of the precious East Asian artefacts and treasures to be showcased at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
One of the precious East Asian artefacts and treasures to be showcased at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
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It was confiscated by the head of British armed forces from his opposite number in one of the first major battles of the 19th century Opium Wars in China.

Now a full outfit worn by the defeated Chinese admiral during the capture of the island of Chusan is to get pride of place at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh as part of a showcase of East Asian artefacts and treasures.

The ceremonial costume, worn during the Capture of Chusan in 1840, was later given to the Edinburgh-born medial pioneer James Young Simpson and then passed it to the forerunner of the National Museum.

It will finally be going on public display after it was discovered in its archives during preparatory work on new multi-million pound galleries devoted to Ancient Egyptian and East Asian culture and heritage.

More than 1,200 objects will be going on display when the £3.3 million project is completed in 2019. Around 40 per cent of the artefacts – which are said to represent more than 150 years of collecting around the world – will be going on public display for the first time.

Dedicated displays on China, Japan and Korea are planned, drawn from what NMS describes as “one of the most significant East Asian collections in the UK”.

The Chinese treasures going on display include a ceremonial “earth spirit” dating from the T’ang dynasty, which ran from 698 to 907, a 16th century Ming dynasty porcelain censer depicting “god of longevity” Shou Lao, and a 17th century official court robe from the early Qing dynasty period.

Other highlights include a woman’s robe believed to have been worn at a 19th century wedding ceremony and a 16th century rice measure depicting a series of “five-clawed” dragons above the mountains and the sea.

The museum is selecting items from a Chinese collection spanning more than 300 years and numbering around 9,300 separate items.

Dr Rosina Buckland, senior curator at the museum, said: “We’ve been investigating different areas of our collection and making new discoveries.

“One of these is a ceremonial parade armour worn by a Chinese admiral in a battle during the Opium Wars with the British forces.

“Zhang Chaofa was one of the captains of the Chinese fleet at the battle of Chusan in 1840. When it was lost his parade armour was confiscated by Lieutenant-General George Burrell, who was captain of the British forces. Burrell seems to have passed it at some point, although we don’t know exactly when, to James Young Simpson. He donated it to the Society of Antiquaries, in 1898, and it entered our collection in 1956.

“Simpson was a very prominent member of the Society of Antiquaries and he would have known it would have been of great interest to them. It is a very complete ceremonial costume and even came with the chest from the shop in China that must have supplied hundreds of these costumes.

“There are about ten different pieces of clothing and there are also several sections of the helmet.”