ACT News

Celestial Empire exhibition brings Qing dynasty to the National Library

Crowds flocked to the National Library of Australia on Saturday for the opening of an exhibition that puts the spotlight on China's Qing dynasty.

The display of rich and varied artefacts presents a wealth of cultural tradition and includes a range of precious objects on loan from the National Library of China.

Kevin He with his daughter Cherie and wife Rui Man try out an interactive display at the exhibition.
Kevin He with his daughter Cherie and wife Rui Man try out an interactive display at the exhibition. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Curator Nathan Woolley said the show, Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911, was the first of its kind in Australia.

He "made an effort" to connect with the nation's Chinese community and pointed out that the labels were in Chinese as well as English.

Janet Wong was among the visitors who had pre-booked tickets for Saturday's sessions.

She shared her personal experience with her family as she walked through the rooms filled with detailed maps, delicate books and fine illustrations.

Her young children looked and listened as she told them the stories behind the colourful prints and intricate drawings.

With her second generation Chinese background, she found the exhibition "interesting" and "worth seeing".

She said it was like "looking through history from the emperor-ruled time to the communist period".

While she knew the bit "towards the end", she was pleased to learn more about the earlier culture and then pass it on to "the third generation".

Kevin He was delighted to find the house where he lived for 20 years represented on a giant map of Beijing.

"It's where our roots are," he said, adding it was important for his 14-month-old daughter to begin discovering more about "where her parents are from".

Little Cherie took a very hands-on approach to the interactive area at the centre of the display.

Dr Woolley said he wanted the exhibition to be accessible to everybody and at "different levels".

Celestial Empire brings together two of the world's great libraries, something he has appreciated.

"It was great when the Chinese team installed the exhibition," he said. "I had a really fun time, working with them."

A respected researcher at the Australian National University, Dr Woolley has been "on loan" to the NLA for a year and a half.

He has written a book that accompanies the exhibition and is available from the library's shop.

The exhibition affords a fascinating insight into almost 300 years of Chinese tradition, much of which paved the way for modern development.

While entrance to the display is free, booking for the timed sessions is essential.

See https://www.nla.gov.au/exhibitions/celestial-empire for more information.