The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning

For the first time, the British Library is sharing its most important literary icons with audiences in China.

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About the project

As part of an ambitious cultural exchange programme with China funded by the UK Government, the British Library will be developing exhibitions, online learning resources and a knowledge exchange programme. In addition, there will be a variety of related events in the UK and China.


The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning project aims to build closer cultural and people-to-people relations between the British Library and China, working with Chinese cultural and educational organisations.

The British Library will raise the profile of its collections for Chinese audiences, and of the Library as a destination for visitors from China. The Library will also take a leading role in network-to-network exchanges between libraries in both countries.

Contents of the project

1. Exhibitions in China

An exhibition in Beijing at the National Library of China – Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library – opened on 21 April 2017, and featured a variety of iconic literary treasures. It introduced Chinese audiences to the Library’s unique manuscripts and rare printed items for the first time. Visitor numbers hit 43,599 over the two-month exhibition period.

On 15 October 2017, In Mu Xin’s Words: Treasures of the British Library opened at the Mu Xin Art Museum in Wuzhen and this exhibition will be open until 14 January 2018. Chinese artist and poet Mu Xin (1927 – 2011) was an ardent admirer of English poetry, drama and fiction and the exhibition features original manuscripts – loaned by the British Library – of four of his favourite writers in English literature: Lord Byron, Charles Lamb, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf.

This will be followed by pop-up exhibitions in cities around China, including Wuzhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong, through to 2019.

2. Online learning resources

To complement the physical exhibitions, the Library has launched a rich digital learning resource based on our successful UK-based website, Discovering Literature. Featuring high-resolution digitised images of collection items as well as in-depth interpretative articles and enticing multimedia content, the site opens up the worlds in which key literary works were written and received. The website is presented in both traditional and simplified Chinese.

3. Knowledge exchange

Throughout the three-year project, the British Library will organise knowledge exchange programmes with partner libraries in both China and the UK to develop skills and share best practice. Since 2016, members of staff from different departments of the Library have already visited the National Library of China, Muxin Art Museum and Shanghai Library.

Reciprocally we host programmes for colleagues from our partner institutions across China. In March 2017, colleagues from Muxin Art Museum visited the UK for a week-long exchange programme at the Library; in November, two members of staff from Shanghai Library will also visit. These trips provide excellent opportunities for the Library to gain deeper understanding of our partners in China, and will pave the way for future collaboration.

Mandarin classes for BL staff

In addition to introducing the British Library to audiences in China, the Library is also working to make itself more welcoming to Chinese visitors to London. We started by offering free Mandarin classes for staff, and have received enthusiastic responses across the Library. More than 40 colleagues across various departments have already benefited from the classes.

4. Events and other activities in the UK and China

As well as the exhibition, we are also offering a diverse programme of activities in both the UK and China.

Party at the Library!

We held a Party at the Library! event to pre-launch our China project on 15 March 2017. The party, which fused the best of contemporary and traditional Chinese and UK cultures through music and literature, was a sell-out event, with many of the visitors coming to the Library for the first time.

High-profile project launch reception

A project launch reception was held on 20 April 2017 at the British Library. The event secured high-profile attendance from representatives from the political and cultural sectors. H.E Ambassador Liu Xiaoming talked at the reception, and Xiang Xiaowei, Minister Counsellor of the Cultural Section of the Chinese Embassy, was also in attendance.

Literary salon

An English Literature in China forum was held at the National Library of China after the opening of the Shakespeare and Sherlock exhibition.

Explore English literature with Mobike and British Airways

In collaboration with the British Council China, Mobike (a Chinese dockless bicycle-sharing company) and British Airways, the project campaigned to promote the exhibition in Beijing.

Lectures at the Peking University

A lecture Close to the original: British Library treasures in manuscript, adaptation and translation was delivered by Alexandra Ault, the Lead Curator of the British Library in China project, and Andrew Dickenson. It was held at Peking University with 70 students, researchers and scholars attending.