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The Printed Image in China, 8th–21st Century

The exhibition was organized by the British Museum with the support of the American Friends of the British Museum.

Selected Artworks

The Printed Image in China, 8th–21st Century

May 5–July 29, 2012

Accompanied by a catalogue

According to current scholarship, printing on paper was invented in China about 700 A.D., making China the country with the longest history of printing in the world. The capacity for multiple duplications and the affordable price of the printed image have long made it an effective medium for mass communication in various cultural contexts.

A vehicle for disseminating the Buddhist faith and shaping its evolving canon in China, pictorial prints assumed a major role in folk rituals and festivals as their subject matter expanded to include auspicious or protective imagery. Printing grew into a significant art form in the early seventeenth century, when an affluent urban populace became avid consumers of culturally sophisticated commodities, including elegant prints. Woodblock-printed images have remained a vibrant medium for articulating nationalistic sentiments and sociopolitical commentary through post-dynastic China's periods of revolution and reform. They also reflect the intelligentsia's ambivalence toward Western-dominated modernization in art and society.

Encompassing more than a millennium of imagery and featuring some 130 pictorial prints from the British Museum's outstanding collection, the exhibition illuminates the production techniques, aesthetic principles, and thematic complexities of this distinctive art form.

Image: General Guan Yu, Qing dynasty, early 18th century. Mianzhu, Sichuan Province. Woodblock print, ink and color on paper with additional hand-coloring; 46.6 x 25.2 cm. British Museum (Asia 1928,0323,0.40). © The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.