"China: cradle of knowledge", a spectacular exhibition celebrating thousands of years of Chinese innovation and ingenuity, is to be officially opened by the Ambassador for the Peoples Republic of China on 25 February.
Hundreds of breathtaking objects have been loaned by China's Museum of Science and Technology in Beijing in a show which has already toured the United States, taking in the cities of Toronto, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Boston and Dallas, and chalking up a total of 4 million visitors. Birmingham (and not London) is to be the only UK venue for the European leg of the tour, organised by the Deutsches Ostasien Institut in Berlin (a cultural and trade organisation). It has already been seen in Luzern and travels to Berlin and Prague after its run at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's Gas Hall (until 4 June).
The exhibition is built around 400 original objects, complemented by models and replicas, through which the impact of Chinese technology on the rest of the world is documented. Focussing around a series of topics - Textiles, Ceramics, Paper Making and Printing, Traditional Medicine, Metalwork, Architecture, Agriculture, Warfare and Astronomy - the displays serve to demonstrate how early Chinese innovations predated, and often influenced, developments in the West.
Moveable wooden type was discovered in China in 1050 AD, almost 400 years before Gutenberg's Bible. On display are books produced by block printing and examples of Chinese printing blocks and plates.
Other innovations featured in the exhibition are early ploughs and farming tools, in use in China from 500BC and brought to Europe and America by Dutch seafarers in the seventeenth century; armillary spheres and other astronomical instruments which enabled the Chinese to draw accurate maps of the heavens; and early guns and projectiles dating from the Ming period (1368-1644) on which the first European cannon were probably modelled.
Also on show is the world's first seismoscope, invented by the scholar Zhang Heng in 132 AD, which uses bronze dragons as part of a sophisticated earthquake detector.
A group of Chinese crafts people have been travelling with the exhibition, and are on hand to demonstrate traditional skills, including printing, paper making and silk weaving on a six-metre high Jacquard loom.
"China: cradle of knowledge - 7,000 years of invention and discovery", cost only £200,000 to mount, and is a coup for Birmingham's award-winning exhibitions venue, the Gas Hall, which was opened in 1993 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
Its exhibition programme has already included the successful "Canaletto and England" show, and the recent contemporary work of South American artist Ana Maria Pacheco.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The very inventive Chinese'