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Art Diary

Zimingzhong 凝时聚珍: Clockwork Treasures from China’s Forbidden City

26 January 2024

Zimingzhong (‘self-ringing bells’) are automata that combine kinetic sculpture with timekeeping: fishes swim, cranes bow their necks and lotus petals unfurl to the sound of tinkling chimes. Such spectacular pieces were highly prized by the emperors of 18th-century China, who imported British-made mechanisms that would then often be decorated by imperial craftsmen in the Forbidden City before being displayed as foreign curiosities. For this exhibition, 23 examples are travelling from the Palace Museum in Beijing to the Science Museum in London (1 February–2 June). You can see what made these timepieces tick, as well as learn about their place in the trade relationship between the two nations. Find out more from the Science Museum’s website.

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Moving Pagoda Zimingzhong (18th century). © The Palace Museum, Beijing

Zimingzhong with British and Chinese mechanisms (early 19th century). © The Palace Museum, Beijing

Temple Zimingzhong (1760s), James Cox and James Upjohn. © The Palace Museum, Beijing