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, we have been developing exhibitions, online learning resources and a knowledge exchange programme. In addition, there have been 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 personal relations between the British Library and China, working with Chinese cultural and educational organisations.

We will grow our capacity to work with China and raise the profile of our collections for Chinese audiences, making the Library a destination for visitors from China. We will also take a leading role in network-to-network exchanges between libraries in both countries.

Contents of the project

1. Exhibitions in China


The Library introduced Chinese audiences to its unique manuscripts and rare printed items with a Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library exhibition, which opened on 21 April 2017 at the National Library of China in Beijing.


Following the successful exhibition in Beijing, the British Library organised a second exhibition In Mu Xin’s Words: Treasures of the British Library at the Mu Xin Art Museum in Wuzhen. The three-month exhibition in October 2017 saw record-breaking monthly visitor numbers at the museum and is one of its most visited exhibitions since it opened in 2014.


Building on the new partnership with Shanghai Library, original manuscripts by five of the greatest writers in the English language were shown at the Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library exhibition in March 2018.

Hong Kong

The Library collaborated with the Hong Kong International Literary Festival in November 2018 to deliver the British Library session: Oscar Wilde. Holding one of the world’s most important collections of original Oscar Wilde manuscripts, the Library explored stage and film adaptations of Wilde, connections between the Hong Kong and UK literary landscapes, and Wilde’s status for LGBTQ audiences and creators.

The Library also worked with Hong Kong–Taiwan new media art team Dimension Plus on an exciting visual project Landscape of Oscar Wilde, displaying landscapes transformed from Wilde’s works.

2. Digital platforms

Bilingual online learning resource

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 traditional, simplified Chinese and is also available in English.

To coincide with the Oscar Wilde event at Hong Kong International Literary Festival in November 2018, the Library made digitised versions of all of its Oscar Wilde playscripts available online via the Library’s Discovering Literature and Digitised Manuscript sites.

The Library set up official Chinese social media accounts on WeChat and Weibo to engage with Chinese audiences digitally. Exciting articles and online campaigns on both social media platforms have increased followers to both official accounts, as well as visitors to the Chinese Discovering Literature website.

3. Knowledge exchange

Throughout the three-year project, the British Library has organised a series of 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 10 different departments of the Library have already visited the National Library of China, Mu Xin Art Museum, Shanghai Library, Guangzhou Library and Hong Kong Central Library.

We also host programmes for colleagues from our partner institutions across China. These provide 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 more than 40 colleagues across various departments have already benefited from the classes.

4. 2019 UK–China Library Forum: Service Innovation and Developments in Public Libraries

The British Library brought together major public libraries from across the UK and China in a forum in March 2019.

Collaborating with the National Library of China (NLC), Library Society of China (LSC), Sichuan Provincial Library and Chengdu Library, we brought senior library leaders from the British Library’s Living Knowledge Network together with their Chinese counterparts.

Participants from both countries discussed shared professional challenges, and identified opportunities for future collaboration.

5. Events and other activities in the UK and China

We offer a diverse programme of activities in both the UK and China.

  • 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.
  • We held a launch reception in 2017 for the British Library in China project, with high-profile attendance from representatives from the political and cultural sectors including H.E Ambassador Liu Xiaoming.
  • An English Literature in China forum was held at the National Library of China after the opening of the Shakespeare and Sherlock exhibition.
  • A campaign was organised with British Airways, the British Council and Mobike to promote the exhibition in Beijing.
  • A lecture Close to the original: British Library treasures in manuscript, adaptation and translation was delivered at Peking University in 2017 alongside the Beijing exhibition.
  • A workshop The British Library, digital humanities and your research was hosted at the University of Hong Kong in November 2018, exploring Library’s major digital projects and how digital humanities affect modern-day research.
  • A public talk The British Library: Past, Present and Future at the Hong Kong Central Library in November 2018, explored the British Library’s digital, online education, events, exhibitions and research programmes.
  • Chinese New Year events at the British Library (2017 and 2019) celebrated the Chinese New Year with traditional cultural activities such as paper-cutting, Chinese lantern-making and calligraphy workshops. These free events were enjoyed by the public and staff alike.
  • A panel discussion Shakespeare Connects was chaired by Head of Culture and Learning Jamie Andrews at Chengdu Library in March 2019, with Shakespeare experts from China, alongside Sue Williamson, Director of Libraries at Arts Council England, and Tom Epps from the Library of Birmingham.
  • A public talk The Open, Creative and Innovative British Library in the 21st Century was organised by UK’s Consul General for South-West China at Chongqing Library in April 2019. Jamie Andrews examined how the British Library is responding to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, and promoting an open, creative, and innovative agenda in partnership with libraries and other cultural organisations across the UK and the world.