Posted by: yujingx99 | December 13, 2020

British export timepieces

I am sharing two exhibits housed in The Gallery of Clocks in the Palace Museum (inside the Forbidden City in Beijing). The gallery has timepieces both made in China and in England, France, Switzerland, etc. In 1601, the Italian missionary Matter Ricci presented the Ming Emperor WanLi (1573-1620) with two automatic clocks total different from Chinese timing apparatuses like the sundial or water clock, which were initially disregarded by the emperor. By the Qing Dynasty, China saw more cultural and material exchanges with Europe. European clocks became especially well received by Emperor QiangLong (1711-1799), who inspired clock production in and export to China. The imperial court continuously pursued clocks during the Qing Dynasty, and soon clocks changed from tributes from missionaries to commodities that could be directly imported from abroad through major ports like Guangzhou (Canton) and QuenZhou. Under QianLong, many clock factories were set up. The Emperor sometimes made very particular orders on how a clock should be fashioned. Once he ordered the clockmaker to embellish a golden lotus on top of a gourd-shaped clock, and the lotus bud should slowly open its petals once the clock was activated. Foreign craftsmen also tried to please their costumers in the Qing imperial court by incorporating Chinese characters and motifs on the exported clocks.

Here are the two timepieces that I find relative to our class:

This portable watch, which uses the fanciful Chinese imagery of the dragon, reflects the chinoiserie style that was popular in Europe from the eighteenth-century. The dragon painted in bright green colour is is unlikely to be designed by Chinese. The reverse shows an idyllic imagery with European landscape and sitters. The watch is overall very ornate.

This is an extremely intriguing watch in the way it combines time and space. The watch is embedded in the middle of the objective lens and surrounded by colourful stones. To use the watch as a telescope, one just simply have to take off the cap of the objective lens. Mrs Jellyby would LOVE this design.


Cui, Wei-Yuan Eden. From Tribute to Trinkets: The Western Mechanical Clocks in China. Accessed 13 Dec 2020.

Pictures and brief introductions of the two exhibits:

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