Major exhibition of British Library literary treasures opens in Beijing

Shakespeare to Sherlock

Some of the greatest treasures of the British Library have travelled to China for the first time ever for a major exhibition at the National Library of China (NLC) in Beijing.  

Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library opens today in the National Library of China in Beijing.  The exhibition features a range of classics of English literature, from Charles Dickens’ manuscript for Nicholas Nickleby and Charlotte Brontë’s ‘fair copy’ manuscript of Jane Eyre to an early Quarto edition of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the draft of William Wordsworth’s Daffodils.

The Beijing exhibition will also include classics that have become hugely popular in China through film and TV adaptations, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter and Ian Fleming’s James Bond story The Living Daylights.

The British Library manuscripts will be displayed alongside National Library of China items including translations, adaptations and critical responses that showcase the long and productive dialogue between English and Chinese literature and culture. Visitors will be able to see the 1599 Quarto edition of Romeo and Juliet, once owned by King George III, side by side with a Ming Dynasty print copy of The Peony Pavilion, by Shakespeare’s Chinese contemporary Tang Xianzu. The exhibition is opened by Chinese Minister of Culture, Luo ShuGang.

The British Library treasures featured in the exhibition are:

  • The ‘fair copy’ manuscript of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (2nd quarto edition, 1599)
  • Manuscript of I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud (popularly known as Daffodils) by William Wordsworth (1806-1807)
  • Manuscript of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (1838)
  • First edition of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1849-1850)
  • Manuscript of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1806)
  • Manuscript of Don Juan Cantos VI & VII by Lord Byron (1822)
  • Manuscript score of The Gondoliers by WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (1889)
  • Manuscript score of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten (1960-1971)
  • Manuscript and typewritten drafts of James Bond stories The Living Daylights and The Fabulous Pay-Off by Ian Fleming (1962-1963)
  • Manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (before 1904)

Mr Han Yong Jin, the Director of the National Library of China, said, “It is with great pleasure that I announce the National Library of China collaboration with the British Library in jointly presenting the exhibition 'Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library,' which is a great gift from the British Library to Chinese readers. It features a selection of the most iconic British authors among Chinese readers, including Shakespeare, Brontë and Dickens. We look forward to revealing the charm of British literature to Chinese readers by displaying manuscripts and early editions of works by these authors. In addition, we have selected relevant manuscripts from translators as well as recent publications from our library and the precious collection of Jiaxing Library to illustrate the importance of cultural exchange between the United Kingdom and China. I sincerely hope that this exhibition will help strengthen the bonds of friendship between the people of our two countries.”

Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Chairman of the British Library, said: “Our joint exhibition with the National Library of China is one of the most exciting and ambitious international projects we have ever undertaken. As well as being the national library of the UK, the British Library is one of the great world libraries and one of our core purposes is to work with partners around the world to advance knowledge and mutual understanding. Shakespeare to Sherlock will thrill all lovers of literature, music and drama, and gives people in China a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see for themselves the precious originals of these classics of British and world culture.”

The exhibition, which runs from 21 April to 21 June 2017, launches a much wider three-year programme of cultural exchange, The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning. Made possible by £1.6 million of funding from the UK Government, the programme includes a series of pop-up exhibitions that will subsequently be held in locations around China, including Wuzhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong, through to 2019.

A website specifically designed for Chinese audiences will be launched when the exhibition opens. Based on the Library’s hugely successful Discovering Literature resource, the Chinese language site will feature over 200 digitised items and more than 60 interpretive essays focusing on iconic authors and works from the British Library’s collections. Many of the essays at will be original material commissioned from Chinese writers. The Library has also launched a WeChat channel to reach as wide a public as possible in China.

The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning will also include a structured programme of knowledge exchange between the Library and institutions in China, with curatorial and other specialists sharing skills, expertise and knowledge during the course of the project.

Notes to Editors

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages. 

For more information:

Ben Sanderson
The British Library
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