China: Throne of Emperors comes exclusively to Te Papa from the National Museum of China. It is the first major historical exhibition on China that has arrived in New Zealand since 1937.

When interest in China, both politically and culturally, is gathering considerable momentum, it’s an opportune time to look at how and why such an enduring civilization is so unique. This exhibition explores a sweep of 2000 years, from the period of unification during the Qin dynasty (202–220 BCE) through to the Qianlong Emperor, one of the most cultured emperors of the last dynasty, Qing (1644-1911).  Unification, exploration, trade and innovation are major themes that weave in and out of this long period when the Emperors helped to determine such changes.

Objects from seven dynasties provide context, many excavated from ancient archeological sites in the mid 20th century. There are early weapons, weights and coins, adopted by the tyrant Emperor Qin Shihuang in his drive to unify China. He is better known for the Terracotta Army buried in his mausoleum near Xi’an.

Silks 2000 years old, demonstrate the long existence of this highly prized textile so sought after in the west. The trade routes established under Emperor Wu came to be known as the Silk Road.

Foreigner on camel back is depicted in pottery made during the Tang dynasty (618-907) – a reminder of the movement of both trade and peoples under Emperor Taizong.

Silver spouted bowls created during the time of Genghis Khan demonstrate the need for robust containers for the Mongolian equestrian invaders who both terrorized China and brought it to a cultural highpoint during the Yuan dynasty (1206–1368).

Finally, treasures of the imperial court, including silk fabric for a court gown, reveal how the Qianlong Emperor aimed towards maintaining unity and social order through the strict dress regulations he imposed from 1766.

China’s history under the emperors was filled with cycles of change: political, religious and social. These Sons of Heaven – as the emperors were called – helped determine this history, well aware of the social responsibility they carried. As Emperor Taizong wrote: “The water that carries the boat can also capsize the boat.”

Justine Olsen
Curator, Decorative Arts and Design

This exhibition was jointly developed by the National Museum of China and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa