Scotland/China news

New schools resource on giant pandas

Education Scotland has launched an excellent new educational resource on giant pandas – it can be found on their website here.

The Giant Pandas website provides teachers with access to relevant, contextualised resources to support learning and teaching about giant pandas through Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes.

The resource contains essential information about the pandas, their arrival in Scotland, current information about their life at Edinburgh Zoo, an image gallery, videos and learning journeys for languages, sciences and health and wellbeing.

Education Scotland say that they will be adding further content to the site in the coming months to support learning in other curriculum areas and in relation to citizen science.

The site can be used alongside Edinburgh Zoo's own education resources, which you can find here - they have a number of panda-related materials at every level.

The Zoo's main panda page is here - this has more background to the whole panda project.

News stories and other background about the arrival of the pandas in Scotland in 2011 can be found on the Blackford Trust's news page.


UK Ambassador to China speaks in Edinburgh

by Website Editor, 17 October 2014

China's reform process is “starting to match the rhetoric”, Sir Sebastian Webb KCMG, the UK's Ambassador to China, told an audience in Edinburgh this week. Sir Sebastian also said he was “pretty optimistic for China's growth and reform prospects”, and believes that “the next two decades should be a golden period” for the UK-China relationship.

Sir Sebastian was speaking at an event on 15 October hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Confucius Institute for Scotland in the University of Edinburgh. This was the first of the Institute's 2014-2015 series of business lectures.

Sir Sebastian giving his talk - photograph courtesy of The Royal Society of Edinburgh

On recent Chinese political developments, Sir Sebastian noted that the new country's new President, Xi Jinping, had taken a “bolder approach” to reform that is “quite inspiring”, especially on a greater role for the market economy. He also said that in his experience of four years working with Chinese policymakers, he found them to be “open and pragmatic”, and keen to learn lessons from around the world. He said they recognised the particular value of talking to the UK because it was the first country to industrialise, and has created stable institutions and regulatory systems.

The Ambassador's high expectations for even greater economic ties between the UK and China was based, he explained, on the fact that the current new phase of Chinese economic development plays to the UK's strengths in, for example, financial services, the service sector in general, education, creative industries and professional services. This is in contrast, he noted, to the first phase of manufacturing industrialisation and infrastructure, which tended to benefit other exporters such as Germany. He identified sectors such as health care, energy, environment, and urban development as having “untapped potential”.

Sir Sebastian also quoted a number of interesting statistics about the UK-China relationship, to demonstrate that the two countries' economies are becoming more complementary :

  • UK exports to China have doubled in the last five years, at a time when exports from other European countries have fallen
  • there has been more Chinese investment in the UK in the last two years than in the previous 30 years
  • some 490,000 Chinese tourists visited the UK in 2013, a rise of 20% on the previous year

Sir Sebastian talking to audience members after his presentation - photograph courtesy of
The Royal Society of Edinburgh

However, the Ambassador also noted some risks and challenges that might hinder China's development in the next few years. These include the country's rising debt-to-GDP ratio ; security concerns in the South and East China Seas, many arising from unresolved differences between China and neighbours going back to the middle of the 20th century ; and the difficulties China faces in becoming more fully integrated into the global economic and political systems.

Sir Sebastian's talk was followed by a lively Q&A session touching on a wide range of issues including UK support for Chinese legal reform, the UK visa system and climate change, before he joined audience members for more informal discussions at a networking reception.

A pdf summary of Sir Sebastian's lecture is now available via RSE here. The full text, as prepared for delivery, is also available from the FCO website.

Sir Sebastian took office in January 2010, and is due to hand over to his successor, Barbara Woodward, in early 2015. While this has been his first Ambassadorial appointment, he has held a succession of other senior appointments with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, some with a strong China focus. He learnt Mandarin in the early 1990s, before serving in the Joint Liaison Group in the run-up to the handover of Hong Kong. His other China-related work has included a posting in Washington following US foreign policy in Asia, and latterly he was the FCO's Asia-Pacific Director.


ECCA's Autumn Festival in Edinburgh

by Website Editor, 13 October 2014

China came to St Andrew's Square in Edinburgh last weekend, with a noisy lion dance, calming tai chi, and spirited singers entertaining appreciative crowds at the city's first-ever Chinese Autumn Festival – all blessed with some exceptional autumn sunshine.

Opening the event, Consul General Pan Xinchun noted that what was on display was “only a small part of the richness of Chinese culture”, and added, “I hope it will open the door to deepening knowledge”. He also said the event demonstrated the “openness and multiculturalness of this great city...well done Edinburgh !” Janice Dickson, our Chairman, and several other members of the National Committee attended and enjoyed the performances - and, of course, some mooncakes !

The event was organised over 11th-12th October, by the Edinburgh Chinese Culture Association (ECCA), supported by the Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China in Edinburgh, the Confucius Institute for Scotland at the University of Edinburgh, and other parties from local community.

The Chinese Moon Festival - also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival - is the second most important festival in the Chinese calendar, after Chinese New Year. Traditionally an occasion for celebrating the moon, harvest and family reunion, the festival is usually held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year, however, in order to maximise attendance by local young people and families, ECCA held their event during the October school holidays.. You can find more background on the Festival here.

Performers and participants at the event included Kakapopo Dance Studio, Edinburgh Chinese Community School, Alba-Cathay Chinese School, Sui Yue and Bo Po from RCS, Lin Ho and ECCA's Tai Chi Team, Fettes College, Loretto School, Edinburgh Chinese Choir, Community Mum & Kids Group, and Lolan Tang.

The Edinburgh Chinese Culture Association (ECCA) was established in 2008 as a voluntary organization. Its objectives are to help local people to understand more about Chinese culture, custom and traditions ; to build friendship within Chinese communities and with other races in Scotland ; and to facilitate links between Scotland and China.

Please also see the main ECCA website.


Asian Art Day at Lyon & Turnbull

by Website Editor, 3 October 2014

On 28 September, auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull presented an event titled ‘China insight – appraising the market and your antiques’. Around fifty people attended, including several SCA members, to listen to four speakers discuss several areas of the current market for Chinese, and other Asian, antiques. Valuations were also available from the Lyon & Turnbull experts.

The historical scene was set by former British diplomat Claire Smith, who served in Beijing in the early 1980s. She highlighted the longstanding links between Scotland and China, including merchant seamen, botanists, explorers, civil servants, soldiers and, of course, employees of the East India Company. The latter allowed its employees to trade on their own account and engaged a disproportionately high number of Scots – the most famous being William Jardine, who went on, with his friend James Matheson, to found the greatest China trading company of them all, Jardine Matheson - still one of Hong Kong's leading businesses. These connections, stretching back into the 18th century, mean that Scotland is a disproportionately rich source for Chinese antiques (for more background, see this article on our site and this timeline on The Blackford Trust site).

Lee Young, Head of Lyon & Turnbull's Asian Art Department, reported on some of the human stories behind the auction house's most successful Chinese sales in recent years. These included a large blue and white Ming style dragon charger, from a private collection in Dumfriesshire, which sold at their last Asian Arts sale on 4 June 2014 for a staggering £427,750 against an estimate of £3,000-5,000 (see here for details). This set a new Scottish record for a Chinese ceramic lot at auction.

Another highlight of the same sale was an Imperial festive summer robe dating to the mid Qing period, which had come from the collection of Leonard Gow, a Glasgow shipping magnate and “arch rival” of Sir William Burrell. This was offered by a seller after seeing a similar, but less expensive, robe at an earlier sale – they had been using the robe as a dressing gown ! It sold for £73,250 against an estimate of £15,000-25,000 (for details, see here).

Answering questions from the audience, Lee confirmed that most of the Chinese items from their sales do tend to go to buyers from mainland China and Hong Kong. He also explained that the next Lyon & Turnbull Asian Arts sale is on 2 December 2014, at Crosshall Manor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire – details will be available on their website shortly. The move of the venue from Edinburgh on this occasion is in response to the fact that most potential buyers are based in London and the south of England – or as Lee put it, “we need to move the mountain to Mohammed”.

Meanwhile, James Robinson, Keeper of Art & Design at The National Museums of Scotland, reflected on the success of the recent exhibition 'Ming - The Golden Empire'. He also outlined the renovation plans for the NMS in Chambers Street, Edinburgh - Asian Gallery is currently closed and will reopen in a more modern style sometime between 2016 and 2018, with precise dates “dependent on funding”.

The last speaker was Douglas Strang Stewart, a Scottish-based expert in ceramic conservation (see his website here). He explained how to deal with damaged or poorly restored objects, and outlined some of the treatments available to modern coservators.

Amongst the audience was former journalist and publisher Paul Harris, whom your editor knew in Shanghai around 2003-2004 when Paul was working as an English editor on the Shanghai Daily. Paul has now returned to Scotland and runs an interesting website on Chinese art in the UK,, as well as a gallery in Coldingham in the Borders, Readers who are collectors of Chinese antiques may find his sites of interest.

We look forward to more stories of exciting finds of Chinese antiques in Scotland !

Note that this week Lyon & Turnbull have also revamped their website with a fresh new look - see here.

The oldest book in Edinburgh University Library

by Website Editor, 22 July 2014

The oldest printed book belonging to the University of Edinburgh dates from China's Ming Dynasty, and was published in 1440. On 24 June, a small group from Edinburgh Branch had the opportunity to see it, “up close and personal”, at the Centre for Research Collections in the Main Library of the University.

The book is Zhouyi zhuanyi daquan, or Complete Commentaries on the Changes of Zhou. It is an extremely rare edition of one of the standard texts used for the civil service examinations – the only known complete copy in existence is at Harvard University.

The SCA group with Rare Books Librarian Joe Marshall and some of the University's Chinese treasures ;
a close up of the Ming book ; SCA members take a closer look

Our host, Rare Book Librarian Joe Marshall, explained that the book was produced using woodblock technology, several years before printing with moveable type was invented in Western Europe. We were all struck by the remarkable quality of the print, which seemed as clear and bold as if it had been printed only a few decades ago. Many of the characters were also very familiar !

The book was given to the Library in 1628, by a Scottish minister, Robert Ramsay, who had graduated that year. He may have made the donation to mark his graduation, but the Library does not know where he got it from.

As it is an important heritage item, last year the Library had the fragile pages repaired and the book rebound in the Chinese style – it had originally been bound upside down.

The book's contents are two commentaries on the Book of Changes, one of the most important works of the Confucian tradition. One of these, by Cheng Yi, interprets the Changes as a moral and philosophical treatise, while the other, by Zhu Xi, reads it as a manual of divination. According to a recent article by Ming specialist Dr Stephen McDowall, Chancellor's Fellow of History at the University, the significance of this book is “the method by which these two very different commentaries were reconciled within a single work”.

However, Dr McDowall adds, “although the official Palace edition of this book, published in 1415, represents imperial authority, the 1440 edition....may be said to inhabit a very different world”. It was published at Jianyang, in northern Fujian province, at the Twin Cassia Book Hall, a commercial publishing house which provided books for educated men, whether examination candidates or not. Such publishers had a poor reputation, with their works often having badly-printed text, poor quality paper and textual errors. This led to a low survival rate amongst such cheap editions, which is one reason why the University's copy is, in fact, so uncommon.

The Edinburgh copy is incomplete, having only about one fifth of its original pages. However, despite this and its low production values, Dr McDowall argues that the book is nevertheless part of a more “nuanced 'socialogy of texts', and a reminder of the 'human motives and interactions which texts involve at every stage of their production, transmission and consumption'” (Dr McDowall's article is now available online here, in the Journal of the British Association for Chinese Studies).

We were also shown a number of other China-related rare books, selected from roughly 300 in the Library's collection. Over the coming years, the Library intends to deepen their holdings of pre-1900 China-related books and manuscripts, not just for academic study and research but for the wider community to appreciate and enjoy. We hope to bring you more news on this exciting new initiative later in 2014.