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Collaboration and Connections for UK and Chinese Maritime Museums

China has a long history of engaging with the world through the exchange of goods, skills and ideas. Communication routes, both land and sea, have linked East and West for centuries. These networks carried more than just merchandise and precious commodities. The transmission of knowledge, ideas, cultures and beliefs, has had a profound impact on the history and civilisations of the people and societies along these routes.

Today, the Chinese government’s policy ‘One Belt, One Road’ is reviving the economic sprit of these early trade routes. Launched in 2013, it is focused on co-operation and connectivity among countries along these traditional byways with a key role for the Maritime Silk Road.

In parallel with this policy initiative is the emergence of a growing number of Chinese maritime museums which are not only preserving maritime history but also taking the pulse of current and future issues facing the world maritime community such as shipping and the health of our oceans. Flagship museums have been established in Shanghai, Guangzhou and another is planned for Beijing/Tianjin.

The maritime museum conference at which I recently presented a keynote paper was, however, in Ningbo, south of Shanghai. Although a Tier 2 city, Ningbo is one of the busiest ports in the world and boasts an extraordinary new museum designed by Wang Shu, the first Chinese architect to win the Pritzker Prize in 2012. Ningbo Museum is an important statement and, in many ways reinforced one of the themes of my presentation on international partnerships. Whether the impetus comes from Britain or China, museums seeking partnerships should not be afraid of looking outside the major centres. Smaller, regional centres may offer as many opportunities with the added advantage of being more nimble and responsive than is often possible in larger institutions.