The Great Wall of China: an exhibition

Dr Claire Roberts
Research Fellow, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University;

Senior Curator, Asian Decorative Arts and Design, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney


The Great Wall of China exhibition, a joint project of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and the National Museum of China, Beijing, opened Sydney in September 2006 and is currently on display at the Melbourne Museum. It is the first exhibition to chart the 2,500-year history of The Great Wall of China, from the Warring States period 475-221 BCE to the present day.

The project was initiated by the Powerhouse Museum as a curatorial collaboration – with the National Museum of China and the Palace Museum, Beijing, to select the objects and develop a storyline that would suit the needs of an international audience, and with the China Heritage Project at The Australian National University, Canberra to produce the publication.

From the outset the Powerhouse Museum made a conscious decision to tell the remarkable story of The Great Wall of China (or rather the many walls that constitute what is referred to as The Great Wall of China) from its origin, as a series of military barriers built by successive dynasties, through to its transformation into a national icon and one of China’s most visited tourist destinations. The exhibition, based on striking objects drawn from museums across China, incorporates a wide range of interpretive media including inter-actives, videos, models, large screen panoramas, educational programs and a blog site. Themes such as tourism, popular culture and product branding are explored, as well as who built the walls and why.

In this paper, Claire Roberts, lead curator of The Great Wall of China exhibition, will discuss the institutional collaborations and some of the challenges associated with the development of the project.

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