Upcoming Symposium: 'Objects of Contention,' The Looting of the Yuanmingyuan

Spoils from the Yuanmingyuan in British Museums
Part I: Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Part II: Monday, September 25, 2017

In the autumn of 1860 British and French troops looted the Yuanmingyuan, the lavish garden estate of the Qing emperors. Campaign members then returned to Europe rich with spoils. Imperial Chinese objects from the estate, many created by imperial command, have since taken unexpected trajectories in private collections and public museums.

Objects of Contention was inspired by one special object within this history: a fragment of a Qing imperial revolving vase once housed in the Surrey Infantry Museum, Clandon Park. In the spring of 2015, fire ravaged Clandon Park and destroyed the regimental museum. Sherds of the vase have since been recovered.

The panels will take a new look at the spoliation and the military collections formed in its aftermath, the evolving position of Yuanmingyuan artefacts in UK collections, and institutional strategies for handling this material today.

Photographs of the vase may be viewed by clicking the “Revolving Vase” button at left. All photos were taken by Kate Hill 25 September 2008 and appear courtesy of the Surrey Infantry Museum.
Presented in conjunction with the Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts (IESA).

Panel One: Looting the Yuanmingyuan, Plunder and Prize

August 15, 2017
5:30 – 8:30pm
The Institute of Historical Research, Wolfson Room I
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

John Roote: The Logistics of Loot. Who were the looters of the Summer Palace? What did they take and why? How did they transport their spoils to Europe and beyond? The quantity, and to some extent the make-up, of Summer Palace loot has long been controversial – how much treasure was really taken and where is it today?

John Roote is an independent scholar and author. His latest book, Destruction of Paradise (Forbidden City Books, September 2017) analyses the looting of the Summer Palace. Roote has conducted extensive research into the looters and the loot that was brought back to Europe after the Second Opium War. See also “A Scholarly Pursuit” (Orientations, July 2017) and A Love Affair with Old Beijing (Forbidden City Books, January 2016).

Kate Hill: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Yuanmingyuan, Or: How the Allied Armies Had a Lost Weekend in China, Struck Gold & Won the Second Opium War. A new look at the looting of the Yuanmingyuan, how it happened and why.
Kate Hill is a postgraduate research student at the University of Glasgow studying the impact of the spoils from the Yuanmingyuan on Victorian aesthetics. Her publications include: “The Yuanmingyuan and Design Reform in Britain”, in Collecting and Displaying China’s ‘Summer Palace’ in the West: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France (Routledge, 2017); and “Collecting on Campaign: British Soldiers in China During the Opium Wars” (JOHC, 2013). She is also creator of www.yuanmingyuanartefactindex.org.

Steve Johnson: The Surrey Regiments in China. Steve will discuss the involvement of The Queen’s Royal Regiment and The East Surrey Regiment in the China campaigns of 1860–63, and introduce artefacts from China in the museum collection, including the revolving vase. Sherds of the vase may be available for inspection. Please email k.hill.2@research.gla.ac.uk or text +41 79 173 5682 one week prior to confirm.
Steve is Managing Curator of the Surrey Infantry Museum.

Amy Miller: Globetrotters Collecting the East: Trope, Treasure & Personal Appropriation, 1870-1900. In the late 19th century, China was an essential stop on the ‘Around the World Tour’, for Western travellers, who brought home emblems of the ‘East’, such as pieces looted from Yuanmingyuan in 1860 and appropriated from the site later as ‘souvenirs’. These material tropes reflected a vision of the ‘Orient’ created at the interstices of culture, politics, trade and travel, filtered through the personal experiences of globetrotting.
Amy Miller is a PhD candidate at University College London researching the rise of the global tourist or globetrotter in the nineteenth century and the ‘East’ as an iteration of a new, global Grand Tour. Formerly Curator of Decorative Arts and Material Culture at the National Maritime Museum, she is the author of the forthcoming The Globetrotter: Cosmopolitan travel, connecting cultures and conjuring the ‘authentic’ East in the age of Globalisation, 1870-1920 (British Library).

RSVP [helpful but not required]: k.hill.2@research.gla.ac.uk or text +41 79 173 5682.

Panel Two: Yuanmingyuan Artefacts in UK museums

[final programme available August 20th]
September 25, 2017
1:30 – 5:00pm

The Institute of Historical Research, Wolfson Room I
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Adriana Turpin: Opening remarks
Adriana Turpin is the Director of the Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts, United Kingdom (IESA-UK), and a founding member of the Seminar on Display and Collecting at the Institute of Historical Research.

Part I: The Surrey Vase Fragment

Kate Hill: Introduction to a porcelain puzzle. A curious fragment of a fascinating history.
Rose Kerr: 18th century imperial porcelain and its impact in the 19th - 21st centuries.
Rose Kerr is Honorary Associate of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, afterretiring as Keeper of the Far Eastern Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where she worked from 1978-2003. She graduated in Chinese studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies and spent a year as a student in China during the last year of the Cultural Revolution, 1975-1976. She teaches and lectures internationally, and acts as Honorary Fellow at the University of Glasgow, Chairman of the Great Britain-China Education Trust, Trustee of the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art and Museum Expert Advisor for Hong Kong. In 2015 she was created an Honorary Citizen of Jingdezhen. Author and contributor to 22 books on Asian art, she is a regular contributor to journals and magazines.

Part II: Collecting Yuanmingyuan

Liu Yang. British and French museum collections of Yuanmingyuan cultural relics.
Liu Yang is a representative of the Yuanmingyuan Management Office and author of Who Collects Yuanmingyuan? (2013).
Louise Tythacott: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France: Collecting and displaying objects from the ‘Summer Palace’ in the West. This talk will examine the succession of Western meanings and values attributed to objects from China’s Yuanmingyuan, or ‘Summer Palace’, over the past 150 years - their existence as commodities in auction houses from the 1860s; their displays in international exhibitions and public museums in Britain and France; and their status as ‘trophies of war’ in military museums in the UK.
Louise Tythacott is a Senior Lecturer in Curating and Museology of Asian Art at SOAS. Her research focuses on the collecting and display of non-Western artefacts, and she has particular interests in the representation of Chinese and Buddhist art in museums. Her books include, Surrealism and the Exotic (Routledge, 2003), The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display (Berghahn, 2011), Museums and Restitution: New Practices, New Approaches (Ashgate, 2014) and Collecting and Displaying China’s ‘Summer Palace’ in the West: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France (Routledge, 2017).
Part III: The Yuanmingyuan, Museums and Restitution
Daniel Butt (Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford)
Constantine Sandis (Department of Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire)

RSVP [helpful but not required]: k.hill.2@research.gla.ac.uk or text +41 79 173 5682.