Skip to main content

Book your free admission ticket now to visit the museum. Schools and groups can book free tickets here

You are here:

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

A beautiful exhibition of mechanical marvels.

In the 1700s, China’s emperors collected ornate clockwork automata known as zimingzhong and cherished them for their intricate design and technical innovation. Our exhibition Zimingzhong 凝时聚珍: Clockwork Treasures from China’s Forbidden City showcased a unique collection of 23 stunning pieces, on display in the UK together for the first time.  

This exhibition invited you to discover the outward beauty and inner workings of these centuries-old timepieces, and their historic role in early cultural exchanges between Britain and China. Translating as “bells that ring themselves”, zimingzhong were far more than just clocks; they combined timekeeping with sophisticated musical technology and flamboyant aesthetics. Their designs incorporated motifs such as cranes and lotus flowers, expressing British perceptions of a Chinese culture that held powerful sway over the country’s imagination.  

These opulent treasures transported visitors to the Chinese trading port of Guangzhou and the home of the emperors in the Forbidden City for a fascinating insight into early trade between Britain and China, and a tour de force of artistry and spectacle. 

Image gallery

Ticket and access information

Associate Funder

The Huo Family Foundation

Thanks to

Lee Kai Hung Foundation