SOAS University of London

New Brunei Gallery exhibition - Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China

7 April 2021
Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China main image

SOAS’s Brunei Gallery is pleased to be able to present the exhibition and project Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China exploring one of the largely forgotten histories between Britain and China in the 19th Century.

The exhibition will launch virtually online from 15th April 2021 and following Government guidance be open to view from Tuesday 18th May 2021 by pre-booked (free) ticket only via the Brunei Gallery website. The exhibition will run until 26th June 2021.   

Drawing on several collections using objects and artefacts to examine the history of the Opium Wars through botanical arts and tools; historical artefacts about silk; missionary work and intercultural shared experiences in China recorded by British Missionaries throughout this period. 

The exhibition includes sections giving a fascinating insight into:

  • The history of opium in China, the story of the Opium Poppy species of flowering plant in the family Papaveraceae and the colonial drug trade of the East India Company;
  • Possessions including Hong Kong taken from China as the fruits from the Opium Wars because of the treaties of Nanking, Tientsin, and the Convention of Peking;
  • The silk trade with China and the growth of British merchant’s trade across East Asia;
  • The Mission from London to Canton and the relationship between Missionaries in China and ‘opium’;
  • The story of Gladys Alyward rejected by the China Inland Mission for her lack of education, who went to China as an independent missionary and became a national hero in China and Britain.

The exhibition was produced with the support of and in collaboration with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; King's College London; Royal Asiatic Society; SOAS Special Collections & Archives and Westminster City Archives.

The exhibition was made possible by: Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London; The London Chinese Community Centre; YAU Clan Chinese Association UK and Oops Brand Consultancy Beijing.

Visit the Brunei Gallery website for more information. 

Opium Smokers in China High Society, carved in wood, 1879,  courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Economic Botany Collections  [KEBC ref.41297]
Opium Smokers in China High Society, carved in wood, 1879, courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Economic Botany Collections [KEBC ref.41297]

For further information, contact:

gallery@soas.ac.uk