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Dr Qin Cao

Dr Qin Cao
Senior Curator, Chinese, Korean, Himalayan and Mongolian collections
Responsible for: Managing the Chinese collections, including those of the Himalayan and Mongolian regions, and the Korean peninsula.
Research interests: Chinese material culture, in particular weapons of the Shang and Zhou dynasties and numismatics, as well as the history of collecting.

Dr Qin Cao is Senior Curator of the Chinese, Korean, Himalayan and Mongolian collections.

Qin Cao’s specialism is early Chinese archaeology and completed her DPhil on Chinese Shang dynasty weapons at the University of Oxford in collaboration with the British Museum. She also has expertise in East Asian numismatics, developed as part of the British Museum Future Curators programme, subsequently cataloguing and researching Chinese coins at Manchester Museum and the Ashmolean. Qin’s current research focus is on provenance studies of Chinese objects in museum collections through the lens of decolonization.

Qin joined National Museums Scotland in 2017 and is passionate about promoting understanding of Chinese culture in Scotland. She was the lead curator for the China displays in the Exploring East Asia gallery, which opened in February 2019, and then curated a Chinese Oracle Bones exhibition in 2020. This exhibition drew on joint research between National Museums Scotland and the University of Edinburgh and brought these enigmatic objects to a wider audience.

Qin also provided specialist support to the East Asian Collections Review National Programme which surveyed 36 organisations across Scotland and co-developed exhibitions at three local Scottish museums (Perth, Aberdeen and Dunfermline). She has been primary supervisor for the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with University of Glasgow, Shaping Taste, Building Knowledge: Collecting China in Scotland in the early 20th Century’, from 2021.

Selected publications

Cao, Q. (August 2022) Weapons in Late Shang (c.1250-1050 BCE) China: Beyond Typology and Ritual. Routledge, 376 pages.

Frame, G. and Cao, Q. (2021) ‘The Ann Paludan Archive of Historical Chinese Sculptures’, Arts of Asia, (Summer), pp. 96–103.

Liu, R., Pollard, M., Cao, Q., Liu, C., Sainsbury, V., Howarth, P., Bray, P., Huan, L., Yao, B., Fu, Y., and Tang, J. (2020) ‘Social Hierarchy and the Choice of Metal Recycling at Anyang, the Last Capital of Shang Bronze Age China’, Scientific Reports, (10), 18794 (

Cao, Q. (2019) ‘By the Mandate of Heaven: A Kingfisher Headdress in the National Museum of Scotland’, Orientations, Vol. 50, March/April issue, pp. 74-81.

Cao, Q. (2019) Displaying China in the National Museum of Scotland, Orientations (Chinese), Vol. 27, Jan/Feb issue, pp. 90-95.

Cao, Q. (2018) Ritual or Lethal? Bronze Weapons in Late Shang China. In A. Dolfini, R. Crellin, C. Horn, & M. Uckelmann (Eds.), Prehistoric Warfare and Violence: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches, pp. 225-245. London and New York: Springer.

Cao, Q. (2015) ‘Sanxingdui; Warring State Philosophy; Astronomy and Calendar; Military and Weapons; Textile and Clothing; the Art of War.’, in Zhuang, Y. (ed.) 30-second Ancient China. Lewes: Ivy Press.

Cao, Q. (2014) An Introduction and Identification Guide to Chinese Qing Dynasty Coins. Money and Medals Network website (

Cao, Q. (2012) ‘A Chinese Coin Hoard from Barrow’, Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, (211), pp. 33–37.

Cao, Q. (2006) ‘A Brief Analysis of the Types of World Heritage Properties in China’, Sichuan Cultural Heritage, (1), pp. 86–90.

For further publications see: National Museums Scotland Research Repository.

Alternate Text

Ann Paludan Image Library

The Ann Paludan Photographic Archive consists of more than 10,000 photographs on the subject of historical Chinese sculptures, representing over thirty years of site visits and research by Ann Paludan (1928–2014).

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Alternate Text

Trade, taste and tea bowls: uncovering Chinese ceramics in our collections

Read Dr Qin Cao's blog post on some of the hidden stories of manufacturing, taste and international trade in our large collection of Chinese ceramics.

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