BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership at the John Rylands Library – David Woodbridge


For my BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership, I am working with the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The library is home to most of the special collections of the University of Manchester, which include an extensive Chinese collection.

This collection was recently found to contain an unexpected treasure, and there is much more that remains to be examined. I have begun by looking at the papers of Edward Harper Parker (1848-1926). Parker worked for over twenty years for the British consular service in China, and was also one of Britain’s foremost sinologists of the time. After retiring from the consular service, Parker devoted himself to researching and writing about China, and in 1901 became the first holder of a new chair in Chinese at the University of Manchester. I am working to produce a hand list of Parker’s papers, so that the scope of this collection can be better appreciated by researchers. Parker’s contributions to Chinese studies, which was then a young discipline in Britain, have been largely forgotten. But he wrote widely on a variety of topics, ranging from ancient history to contemporary affairs, and encompassing both the Chinese heartland and the peoples and nations on China’s borders. His papers are providing interesting insights into his working methods and interests, and to his role in advancing the understanding of China in Britain at the start of the twentieth century.

The John Rylands Library is also one of Manchester’s top visitor attractions. Many people come simply to view the beautiful historic reading room, but the library also runs a range of public exhibitions and events, showcasing items from its wide collections. During my three months at the library, I will also be working with the visitor engagement team to produce one such event. It will provide visitors with an exciting opportunity to view some items from the library’s Chinese collection, and will hopefully serve to spark a wider interest in the history and culture of China.


BICC Manchester Chinese for Academic purposes week


P1020791Classical Chinese Workshops

BICC Manchester hosted and funded 15 China field PGR’s from all over Europe, from the 4th until the 8th April for a week long intensive Chinese for academic purposes workshop, with an emphasis on Classical Chinese training.

This was made possible  with thanks to supplementary funding from a collaboration with BICC Bristol, SOAS China Institute and HEFCE funding.  The Training course was  open to PGT and PGR students across the China field and financial barriers to access were removed by providing support for travel and accommodation for all the participants as well as one week’s training delivered by Chinese Professors in Linguistics and a teaching team from Manchester University.

The week was intense and the participants worked hard, and the organisation was overseen and planned by PI to the BICC project, Professor of Chinese History  Yangwen Zheng, with the Classical Chinese lessons being given by the Director of the Manchester Confucious Institute Dr Jianxi Wang.




BICC and the National Trust

British Inter-university China Centre (BICC) Cultural Engagement Postdoctoral Fellowship with the National Trust.

Dr Paul Bevan


My first experience working on the history of clocks and the eighteenth-century English “sing-song” trade with China was as part of a music project. “Handel in the Forbidden City”, a collaborative project with Dr Jon Banks of Anglia Ruskin University, looked at the mechanical music found on the clocks exported to China, as part of a broader topic concerning the exchange of ideas and aesthetics between East and West. Much of my research focussed on one particular clock in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, which, unusually for an English-made timepiece, plays the well-known Chinese folk melody Molihua 茉莉花 (Jasmine Blossom). My background in the study of Western eighteenth-century music, as a professional musician for over twenty years, informs my studies of the history and art of the period, as does my specialist knowledge in the areas of Chinese art, literature and music. The BICC project appealed to me for two main reasons. First, it gave me the rare opportunity to combine two areas of expertise: China, and the art and music of eighteenth-century Europe, and secondly, it appealed strongly to my interest in object-based research.

The Project

Initially the remit of the project was to discover the provenance of one clock in the collection of Anglesey Abbey (AA), Cambridgeshire, which had been restored by Matthew Read, Brittany Cox and others at West Dean College. Following an initial inspection of the clock, and other items in the AA collection, it was soon realized that the project would need to expand in scope to include more than just this one clock, as there had clearly been a close relationship between two or more of the clocks in the collection since at least as far back as the turn of the nineteenth century.



Two clocks in the collection of Anglesey Abbey have traditionally been known as the “Pagoda Clock” and the “Tower Clock” In fact, the second of these names might best be used to describe both clocks, the name “Pagoda Clock” being something of a misnomer. At the outset of the project I spent some considerable time looking at the latter term and why it should not be used to refer to the example at AA. It is clear that a number of clocks in true “pagoda” form do exist in collections worldwide and the Anglesey Abbey example does not directly relate to these.[1] In the end, for the purposes of this project, it was deemed reasonable to continue referring to the AA clocks by the names by which they had been traditionally known in order to avoid confusion.


The main clocks examined on in this report are:

The Anglesey Abbey Clocks

Pagoda Clock A

Tower Clock A

Singing Bird Clock


The pairs to the AA Clocks

Pagoda Clock B

Tower Clock B


Other Clocks in the Robersons’ Catalogue Eighteenth Century Clocks

Imperial Immortal Mountain Clock

Mirror Clock

Elephant Clock


Simon Harcourt-Smith

The project began with an examination of the available copies of the rare 1933 catalogue of the clocks in the Palace Museum, Beijing, written by the British diplomat Simon Harcourt-Smith, just eight years after the Forbidden City had been established as a museum. The Catalogue of Clocks, Watches, Automata, and Other Miscellaneous Objects of European Workmanship from the XVIII to Early XIX Centuries in the Palace Museum and the Wu Ying Tien, Peiping [Beijing], is the single most important source concerning the history of clocks in the Palace Museum, in the early part of the twentieth century and was important as far as the project is concerned, as it is the earliest document of its type available. The results of these initial investigations, although later found to be not directly relevant to the project, are included in Appendix II. Available information concerning the life of Simon Harcourt-Smith is scant, despite his importance with regard to the history of clocks in China, and the brief introduction found in the appendix may add, in some small way, to the history of Chinese clocks and automata in the early twentieth century.


For the full report written by Dr Paul Bevan;

The Pagoda Clock at Anglesey Abbey




Call for Papers: “China in Britain 1760-1860


Call for Papers

China in Britain: 1760 to 1860

A conference organised by British Inter-university China Centre (BICC) and the Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) and to be held at the University of Manchester 12-13 May 2016.

2016 marks the bicentenary of Lord Amherst’s embassy to China.  This episode of history seems to have been largely forgotten by historians of Britain and China, and has generated little scholarship.  But the embassy is important because the delegates saw – in their eyes – a different China to that which had been described before: “Dirt, squalidness, and extreme poverty were as usual their leading characteristics.  Their inhabitations were miserable beyond anything which England can exemplify … they looked more like the dens of beasts than the habitations of men” (Clarke Abel, 1819).  The British were changing their opinion about, and soon their policy towards, the Middle Kingdom.  Chinoiserie would soon lead to the “scramble for China”.  Although historians have studied “Britain in China”, they have largely ignored China in Britain after the heyday of eighteenth century Sinophilia, and before the darker turn in relations in the mid-nineteenth century.  Tea gave rise to and also saw the decline of the Honourable Company.  What is the social life of tea in the United Kingdom?  How did increasing dependence on the China trade and the ascend of the “private English” lead to a change in public opinion and ultimately policy?  What does this change tell us about British polity and society?  We welcome historians/scholars of Britain and China to a debate that addresses the following issues in an effort to promote Anglo-Chinese, some might say Sino-British, studies.

  1. Chinoiserie and allure of the Middle Kingdom in Britain
  2. China trade and its impact on British economy and society
  3. Changing public opinion about and policy towards China
  4. Individuals and institutions that emerged during the change

Inquiries and abstracts of no more than 150 words and 5 lines of biographical information should be sent to: before 30 January 2016. Those accepted to present at the conference will be notified by 29 February.  Accommodation and food will be provided during the conference. There is a modest budget for travel but priority will be given to PhD students.

Chinese Propaganda Posters and Copyright- Dr Amy Jane Barnes

Chinese propaganda posters and copyright


Dr Amy Jane Barnes

Following on from my last blog post , I can report that I have, bar a few queries, finished the catalogue of Chinese propaganda posters, or at least the catalogue in its most basic form. I am currently working on supplementing this data – title, format, measurements, condition, etc. – with research into each individual poster, with a view to augmenting the catalogue with some interpretative material. This research will also form the backbone of the academic papers I intend, in the near future, to write based on the collection.

One of the key activities that the British Library asked me to undertake, aside from compiling the catalogue, was to determine the copyright status of the collection, with a view to digitizing and making it available online to researchers worldwide. This has proven to be the trickiest and most frustrating aspect of the project. Many institutions have been happy to digitise and publish their collections of Chinese propaganda posters in print and online,* because, after all, as state propaganda, they were intended to be disseminated to the widest possible audience. And received wisdom tells us that enshrining and protecting individual artists’ intellectual property rights was not a key concern of the Maoist period. Right?

Well, no, as it happens. The reality of the situation is not quite so simple and straightforward. Although legislation may not have applied to propaganda posters at the point of their creation, in 1990 China enacted copyright laws, which were applied retroactively. Generally speaking, these laws assert that works remain in copyright for the duration of the author’s (or artist’s) life, plus 50 years. Or, should the item have been ‘authored’ anonymously or published on behalf of an organisation (say, for example, the Chinese state), copyright restrictions apply for 50 years from the year of publication to the end of the calendar year. This all means that, at the time of writing, anything published anonymously or on behalf of an organisation, before and including 1964, is out of copyright. But this does not include works by named artists (unless they died in or prior to 1964).

And works published after 1964 must be assumed to be in copyright. From 1 Jan 2016, copyright on works published in 1965 will expire, again assuming they are not by named artists working in an independent capacity or feature third party material – a further sticking point. According to advice received, in the case of film posters, which form a large part of the British Library’s collection, third party materials, such as film stills add an additional layer of complexity.

Given that the collection comprises material published between 1950 and 1982, and that a large number of the pre-1965 items in the collection either feature third party material or were produced by named artists, it isn’t difficult to understand just how complicated it has been to determine what is and what isn’t in copyright according to the 1990 law. As a result and erring on the side of caution, the original plan, to digitise and make the collection accessible online, has been abandoned, at least for now. And also explains why this blog post isn’t illustrated with any images!

However, it has been possible to publish a few examples of older posters in the collection on the British Library Asia and Africa blog, because, in the terms of the 1992 legislation they are out of copyright. For example, a film poster comprising an anonymously painted image and text (but no film stills) dated to 1959, and several examples of nian hua (New Year prints) from 1950, soon to be posted to the blog. The latter are by named artists, but as i) I have been unable, despite extensive research, to locate any further details about the artists in question, such as their dates; and ii) it can be argued that the artists in question were considered to be employees of the state and not working independently when they were sent out to the countryside to make their prints, these examples of nian hua can safely be considered ‘out of copyright’.

In my next and final blog for the BICC website, I will provide an overview of the collection and my findings. In the meantime, for more about my research, please see the Asia and Africa section’s blog on the British Library’s website.



Amy Jane Barnes (Dr)


Many thanks to Matthew Lambert, Copyright Assurance and Licensing Manager of the British Library’s Publisher Relations, IP and Licensing Section for his expert advice.

*Or, they are of the opinion that the risk is minimal and acceptable. There is no doubt that the British Library, as an national institution closely identified with the British state, has to play it by the book (no pun intended!) when it comes to such tricky legal matters.


Britain and China, 1840-1970: new book from BICC researchers

Britain and China, 1840-1970 coverJust published by Routledge, and very much a BICC volume, Britain and China, 1840-1970: Empire, Finance and War, is co-edited by Robert Bickers and Jonathan J. Howlett. The volume presents some of the research first aired at BICC’s August 2011 conference ‘Britain and China, pasts, presents and futures’. Held at the University of Bristol this event brought together over 30 speakers from across the globe.

The collection presents 11 essays, outlining the results of research into new archives, or exploring new paradigms for understanding the course of Britain-China relations.

Contributors include BICC researcher Isabella Jackson, and essays by Paul Bailey, John Carroll, Chen Qianping, Koji Hirata, Sherman Xiaogang Lai, Benjamin Mountford, Stephen R. Platt and Hans van de Ven. The cover photograph shows the pipes of the Shanghai Scottish Company of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps in action on a Shanghai street in 1924: source, Hutchinson collection, Historical Photographs of China project (C) Barbara Merchant.