Skip Navigation or Skip to Content
EA. Edinburgh & Lothians

East Asia in Edinburgh and Lothians

Find out more about East Asian collections in City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian.

City of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Central Library, Edinburgh City Council

The East Asian collection at Edinburgh Central Library comprises around 700 individual items including volume/part number. Most of these items were the property of Henry Dyer (1848-1918) and have been donated to the library by his daughter, Marie Ferguson Dyer in 1945 and 1955. These donations together consisted of 48 loose sheets of Japanese woodblock prints, bound woodblock printed volumes, and paintings. Within this collection is Furuyama Moromasa’s early 18th-century painting titled Theatres of the East, which is currently on display in the Exploring East Asia Gallery at National Museums Scotland.

National Galleries of Scotland

National Galleries of Scotland has Chinese photograph albums that contain over 200 photographs, Chinese paintings and contemporary prints. The Japanese collections comprise woodblock prints, painting albums, photography, and contemporary works by Daidō Moriyama (b. 1938), Kishio Suga (b. 1944) and Hideo Hagiwara (1913-2007).

National Library of Scotland

National Library of Scotland has extensive holdings of British printed books, official publications and maps relating to East Asia, received through legal deposit, as well as archive and manuscript collections relating to Scots and the region. The Library also looks to acquire printed and manuscript material from outside the UK which relates to Scottish people travelling and working in East Asia, and has a small collection of Chinese printed books printed between 1655 and 1912 presented to the Advocates Library in the early 20th century and transferred to the National Library on its foundation in 1925. Among the archive and manuscript collections there is the Stewart Lockhart archive, papers of Scottish church missions to China and Japan, and the papers of James Watson and Ruth Tait, both of whom witnessed the siege of Xi’an in 1926. The John Murray archive includes correspondence from the traveller Isabella (Bird) Bishop (1831-1904).

In the manuscript collections there are photographs taken by Isabella (Bird) Bishop during her travels through Korea (1894-1897); Japan (1895-1897); and China (1896-1897). The church missions collections also contain photographs of East Asia, which are in the International Mission Photography Archive.

National Museums Scotland

The Chinese, Japanese and Korean collections at National Museums Scotland are among the most important collections in the UK and reflect over a century and a half of continuous collecting of fine arts, decorative arts, archaeology and costume.

  • A.1909.500.119_Cooking pot.jpg

    Red pottery cooking pot of from the Middle Jomon period (c. 2500-1500 BC) donated by Dr Neil Gordon Munro: Japan, Musashi province, Mitsusawa shell-mound, Middle Jomon, middle period, Katsusaka style.

  • A.1938.968_Ming dish.jpg

    Porcelain dish from the Ming Dynasty: China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen kilns, Ming Dynasty, Xuande reign, 1426 - 1435 AD.

  • A.1919.525_Storage jar.jpg

    Porcelain storage jar: Korea, possibly produced at official kilns at Punwon-ni, Joseon Dynasty, late 18th to early 19th century.

  • K.2000.594_Lidded container.jpg

    Porcelain lidded container, carved in a square-facetted style: South Korea, by Kim Yikyung, 2000.

  • A.1909.384.310_oracle bone.jpg

    Oracle bone of tortoise plastron or ox scapula from the Couling-Chalfant Collection: China, Henan Province, near Anyang, Yinxu, late Shang dynasty, c. 1200-1050 BC.

  • V.2009.232_porcelain group.jpg

    Porcelain group of fourteen figures celebrating the harvest around large wheat-sheaf with the Chinese character feng (abundance): China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen, c. 1970 AD.

  • A.212.90_lacquered box.jpg

    Circular covered box of red lacquered wood, with five Daoist sages studying a handscroll: China, Qing dynasty, 18th century.

  • A.1881.62.1_jade vase.jpg

    Dark green jade vase carved in the form of an ancient bronze vase: China, mid 19th century.

  • A.1930.496_rice measure.jpg

    Red, green and brown lacquer rice measure with a wooden stand: China, Ming Dynasty, Jiajing reign, 1521-1567 AD.

  • A.1939.254_fan.jpg

    Fan with mount formed of goose feathers painted with different motifs with ivory sticks and guards and a silk tassel: China, Canton, 19th century.

  • A.1887.745.51.49.1-3_woodblock print.jpg

    Colour woodblock triptych print entitled Mitate hotaru-gari yako tama-zoroi (Imagined Scene of Chasing Fireflies in the Evening Light), depicting six kabuki actors beside a river in the evening chasing fireflies: Japan, by Utagawa Kunisada, 1855.

View full screen

A large proportion of the Chinese collections is ceramics, from all periods and dynasties and encompassing a wide variety of examples of the finest and most influential domestic wares as well as strong  examples of export wares. The oracle bone collection is one of the earliest collections to enter a museum. Purchased in 1909 from Samuel Couling (1859–1922) and Frank Chalfant (1862–1914), it is the second largest collection outside China.  The Chinese collection is also distinguished by fine lacquer, textiles, imperial material and a large group of material from the Communist era (1950s to 1970s) in diverse media. 

Our Japanese collections are notable for the strong representation of woodblock prints, ceramics, samurai armour and swords, archaeological material, recent studio crafts and Ainu ethnographic objects. The groupings of Japanese archaeological and Ainu ethnographic material are of international significance. Assembled by Dr Neil Gordon Munro (1864–1942), a physician and anthropologist who lived with and studied the Ainu people of Hokkaido, the groups were donated to National Museums Scotland between 1908 and 1914 and comprise more than 2000 objects.

The Korean collection draws attention to the uniqueness of Korean traditions exemplified through ceramics, Confucianism and contemporary works. Ceramics are the most significant component of the collection and mostly representative of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), with more recent acquisitions focusing on South Korea’s leading contemporary ceramists, such as Kim Yikyung (b. 1935), Cho Chung-hyun (b. 1940) and Suku Park (b. 1947).

In spring 2019, the new Exploring East Asia gallery opened at the National Museum of Scotland and presents a unique perspective on East Asia, enabling visitors to explore and contrast the diverse traditions, peoples and histories of these three fascinating and dynamic cultures.

National Trust for Scotland: Newhailes House and Gardens

National Trust for Scotland has important collections of East Asian fine and applied art. The earliest items are Chinese and are located at Newhailes House in Musselburgh. From 1709 Newhailes House was owned by successive generations of the Dalrymple family and became a Scottish National Trust property in 1997. The collections at Newhailes House reflect an 18th-century vogue for East Asian export wares.  The collection at Newhailes House includes 18th-century Chinese wallpapers, as well as, garments and textiles made of Chinese silk. Newhailes has a combination of Chinese and Japanese artefacts, many of which may have been traded through the Dutch East India Company. Highlights of the collection are the East Asian ceramics and the Chinese ‘Coromandel’ kuancai screens.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

The collections at Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh include maps, sketches, paintings and photographs predominantly by British botanists who conducted research in China during the 19th century and early 20th century. Chinese items include two painting albums of Chinese lilies by an anonymous artist, and a contemporary woodblock print by Wei Qicong. The collection has several seed and plant nursery wholesale catalogues that were issued by businesses in Yokohama, Japan in the early 20th century.

University of Edinburgh

There are around 60,000 East Asian items in the research collection at the University of Edinburgh. The earliest Chinese woodblock-printed book in the collection is The Book of Changes, published in 1440 with a commentary that dates from 1415. This item, like many of the books in the collection, was donated by University of Edinburgh alumni. There is also an early Japanese manuscript titled Illustrations of Flower Arrangements that was compiled by Yamanaka Chūzaemon in 1698.

The library has examples of export publishing by Thomas Nelson, who in the 20th century produced educational texts for China. There is also a manuscript copy of Isabel Thorne’s diary from 1887. Thorne was one of the Edinburgh Seven, the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university. Her diary records contemporary events in China, such as the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864).

The library has material that connects Edinburgh with an international network of scientists who have studied at University of Edinburgh.  Alumni include scientists from Korea and China who came to Scotland to research animal genetics. The library also has items that are connected to the architect and urban planner Percy Johnson-Marshall, who was employed by the government of Burma to advise on planning and reconstruction (1943-1946).

West Lothian

Linlithgow Heritage Trust

Linlithgow Heritage Trust has one pair of Chinese shoes in its collections.

East Asia Collections in Edinburgh And Lothians
PDF (5.1 MB)

You may be interested in

Back to top