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The Arts in China - Museums & private collections in mainland China & Taiwan

The best surviving examples of all the arts, from bronzes and porcelain to calligraphy and painting.

Beijing, Nanjing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Taipei.

Contemporary art is also a feature.

Includes the world’s greatest collection of Chinese art, the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.

  • ‘The Oriental potter’s wheel and kiln’, engraving for a Chinese window design by W.B. Scott (1811–90).
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Art in China has developed over an immense span of time. From ancient times to the present day the country has created an immeasurable array of artistic expression, which is manifested in ritual, pictorial and architectural traditions. A prevailing feature has been the phenomenal mastery of the skills of making art and artefacts.

Trade and travel led to exposure to the culture of other regions – Japan, Korea, India, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe – and to the assimilation of designs and motifs that we, from today’s perspective, regard as inherently Chinese. In turn, Chinese forms and materials have had a great impact not only on other areas of the East but also on the art of Europe and the western world.

Crucial to the understanding of Chinese art history is that certain categories of art and craft peaked in particular periods and had lesser importance in others. Hence we find (for example) that the production of ritual bronzes culminated in the early dynasties of the Shang and Zhou periods (c. 1600–256 BC), whereas pictorial art reached a first zenith only during the Tang dynasty (AD 618–907).

A vast number of objects were created specifically for use in tombs and consequently were buried for many centuries and only unearthed in recent times. Since the discovery of imperial tombs in the twentieth century, scholarship has been transformed. Laws limit the travel of these ancient artefacts so many key items can only be viewed in China.

In contrast with western hierarchies of art, where since the eighteenth century ‘fine art’ has been held in higher esteem, in China the ‘decorative arts’ enjoyed an extraordinarily high status. Excellence in craftsmanship was established early on, and imperial patronage was a major catalyst in the development of ceramics, jades and lacquer objects.

This tour has been designed to present and interpret the arts of China through exposure to the finest examples in many of the best collections in China and Taiwan. Some of the artworks are of a type and quality that cannot be seen outside China. The imperial Chinese holdings are viewed in the major museums in Beijing and in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Here are housed the larger part of the imperial collections following their evacuation during the Civil War.

Other cities visited include Tianjin, Nanjing and Shanghai, where an increasing number of privately owned museums contributes greatly to the growing significance of China as a place in which to indulge in aesthetic delight.

Day 1

Beijing. The tour begins in Beijing with lunch at the hotel (flights from London are not included. Your room is available from 3.00pm on 9th March – see Practicalities). In the afternoon, visit Yuanming Yuan, the suggestive ruins of the Old Summer Palace, looted of a vast imperial collection of porcelain, bronzes and statuary by British and French troops in 1860. First of three nights in Beijing.

Day 2

Beijing. The Capital Museum is a striking modern building containing a well curated selection of art and artefacts including wonderful ancient Buddhist statues and an exceptionally fine collection of porcelain. In the afternoon, visit the National Palace Museum (The Forbidden City), containing treasures from the Ming and Qing courts. There is special access (subject to confirmation) to the Shufang Zhai, used as a study by the Emperor Qianlong, which has an eclectic display of Qing artefacts.


Day 3

Tianjin. Full-day excursion by high-speed train to Tianjin, one of China’s major port cities. Unfortunately, little remains of the concession-era architecture. In its place is a thoroughly modern city, including an impressive new cultural centre built around a lake, consisting of a museum, art gallery and library. The museum holds a fabulous collection of Chinese classical painting. Return to Beijing.


Day 4

Beijing, Nanjing. In the morning, walk around Caochangdi, a community of contemporary artists’ studios and galleries that occupy buildings designed by Ai Wei Wei. Fly to Nanjing, capital of China under the first three Ming emperors (and again 1912–49). Much of the centre is of a manageable scale and plane trees line the busy streets. First of two nights in Nanjing.


Day 5

Nanjing. The Nanjing Museum is one of the best in China, with the complete range of arts – bronzes, jades, porcelain, textiles, painting and furniture. The 20 miles of city wall built, by the first Ming emperor, became the longest in the world; its Zhonghua barbican is a formidable structure with three courtyards. The tomb complex of the first Ming emperor, on a wooded hill beyond the walls, constitutes a summation of past traditions and sets the pattern for subsequent imperial burials.


Day 6

Shanghai. Travel by high-speed train to Shanghai, arriving in time for lunch close to the Yuyuan, the city’s finest traditional garden. The Long Museums (there are two) contain privately owned collections of traditional, modern and contemporary Chinese art and also host impressive exhibitions. Visit one of these, subject to show. First of two nights in Shanghai.


Day 7

Shanghai. Visit the Shanghai Museum, outstanding for porcelain, painting, calligraphy and in particular, Shang and Zhou bronzes. In the afternoon a walk in the French Concession includes the Propoganda Poster Art Center to view original Mao-era posters collected by Yang Pei Ming. Before dinner there is a stroll along the Bund, Shanghai’s iconic riverside stretch of Art Deco and Neoclassical buildings, symbolic of the city’s burgeoning wealth in the 1920s and 1930s.


Day 8

Taipei. Fly from Shanghai to Taipei (Air China). After lunch visit the Confucius Temple, the only such temple in Taiwan with southern Fujian-style ceramic adornments. First of two nights in Taipei.


Day 9

Taipei. Spend a full day at the National Palace Museum for a detailed study of its comprehensive ceramics collection. There is also time for independent exploration. Artworks include some of the most prized pieces from the Forbidden City, transported here by the Nationalists in 1949.


Day 10

The tour ends after breakfast. Independent departures (private airport transfers can be arranged, see Practicalities).

Price, per person

Two sharing: £5,890. Single occupancy: £6,690. International flights are not included.



Domestic air travel, Air China: Beijing to Nanjing (Boeing 737) and Shanghai to Taipei (Airbus 330); high-speed rail travel (First Class, subject to availability, return) from Beijing to Tianjin and Nanjing to Shanghai; transort by air-conditioned coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 8 lunches and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guides.


International flights

Flights from London to Beijing and Taipei to London are not included in the price of the tour. We will send the recommended flight options with your confirmation of booking and ask that you make your own flight reservation. The cost of a World Traveller (economy) seat is currently c. £1,000 and will be available to book in April 2019.



Waldorf Astoria, Beijing: 5-star luxury hotel in the city centre. Intercontinental, Nanjing: modern and comfortable 4-star business hotel located in the centre of Nanjing; Yangtze Boutique Hotel, Shanghai: 4-star, Art Deco hotel ideally situated close to the Shanghai Museum; Landis Hotel, Taipei: centrally located, 4-star, Art Deco-style hotel.


Additional nights

It is possible to arrange additional nights at the hotels before or after the tour. Please contact us if you are interested. The night of 9th March 2020 is included in the price of the tour to allow for early check-in on Day 1.



Required for most foreign nationals, and not included in the tour price. We will advise participants on the process.


How strenuous?

A good level of fitness is essential. Unless you enjoy entirely unimpaired mobility, cope with everyday walking and stair-climbing without difficulty and are reliably sure-footed, this tour is not for you. A rough indication of the minimum level of fitness required is that you ought to be able to walk briskly at about three miles per hour for at least half an hour, and undertake a walk at a more leisurely pace for an hour or two unaided. The tour involves a lot of standing in museums. Average distance by coach per day: c. 23 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.


Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.