Learning about China - Resources at The British Museum for Schools and Teachers

 Who should use this resource?  Teachers wishing to branch out beyond teaching the language. Teachers inspired by the thought of using objects to engage children and young people about China's amazingly enriching and influential heritage. Why not talk to your Head of History about how you make real learning about China's past and how that past affects the future. Make China part of your whole school.

 What is this resource? 

Helen Wang, Curator of East Asian Money at the British Museum, gave a presentation showing imaginative approaches to teaching Chinese culture.  Her presentation included:

  • Chinese objects on display in the galleries in the British Museum
  • Chinese objects in the “History of World in 100 Objects” (BM/BBC project)
  • Chinese objects on display in the UK touring loan exhibition “Journey to the East”

 The BM’s touring loan exhibition “Journey to the East!” presents objects in five different themes:

(1) language and writing

(2) technology

(3) food and drink

(4) play and performance

(5) festivals and beliefs

For images see HERE


Helen showed pictures of some of the objects in the loan exhibition, then illustrated the same five themes with objects/images that are likely to be of current interest to young people today:

(1) Chinese language option on the new iphone

(2) the Three Gorges Dam – a huge feat of engineering but with implications for the environment

(3) Chinese food

(4) the opera “Monkey: A Journey to the West” and its music/multimedia spin-offs

(5) Chinese New Year – 2010 Year of the Tiger


Helen linked the objects in the UK loan exhibition “Journey to the East” to the famous classic of Chinese literature “Journey to the West” (also known as “Monkey”) written by Wu Cheng’en in the Ming dynasty, and to the fabulous new opera “Monkey: Journey to the West” created by Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett, Chen Shi-Zheng and David Greenspan in 2008. The story follows a Tang dynasty Buddhist monk on his travels to India in search of Buddhist scriptures. Helen recommended watching the documentary “Damon and Jamie’s Excellent Adventure” as an excellent exploration of how Damon and Jamie learnt about China and Chinese culture. Part of the opera was presented at the British Museum’s Chinese New Year celebrations in 2008, and was so popular that the Museum had to close its doors to prevent overcrowding!


When it comes to teaching Chinese culture, you can approach it in any way you and your students like!



·         British Museum

·         Journey to the East travelling exhibition (includes teaching resources)

·         China at KS2

·         British Museum Collections Online (search for Chinese objects in the BM collection)

·         Ancient China


 History of the World in 100 Objects  

You just have to listen to the History of the World in 100 Objects series.  Physical objects allow us to relate to the past in a way books often do not. The 100 part series by Neil Macgregor, Director of the British Museum, explores world history from two million years ago to the present and includes 6 objects from China, some of which can be viewed at the Museum.  


The podcasts of the programmes featuring the 6 objects from China can be downloaded here (click on object to go to BBC website):


Object 23: Chinese Zhou Ritual Vessel

Object 30: Chinese Bronze Bell

Object 34: Chinese Han Lacquer Cup

Object 39:  Chinese Admonitions Scroll

Object 50: Chinese Silk Princess Painting

Object 55: Chinese Tang Tomb Figures


There is also an excellent associated primary resources section on the BBC website called

‘A History of the World’ that includes primary lesson plans and resources based on one of the objects (55) ‘The Tang Tomb’ figures.  A great free resource.


If you have any additional resources associated with this resource, please let us know. Email info [at] thechinesestaffroom [dot] com

(Photo courtesy of The British Museum)