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In the middle of the sixteenth century, European missionaries introduced western technology to China along with Christian proselytizing. At the same time they introduced European clocks and watches. In 1601, the Italian missionary Matteo Ricci presented the Ming Wanli Emperor (r. 1573-1620) with two chiming clocks, which caused a stir at the court. In the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722) had a great enthusiasm for science and collected many western devices and a variety of clocks. Then every missionary coming from Europe brought several clocks as gifts to present to the emperor or high officials. The clocks were an important medium for Chinese to understand Western culture and technology. Of the foreign clocks in the Qing court some were directly purchased from the West India Company in Holland and England; a few were made to order to meet imperial taste. The rest were presented to the court by local officials who purchased from foreign traders. The foreign clocks and watches in the Palace Museum come primarily from Great Britain, France, and Switzerland. With remarkable design and technology as well as beautiful appearance and splendid colors, they are both practical timepieces and artistic objects for display. The high quality of all aspects of the clocks and watches, including imaginative decoration and mechanical craftsmanship, fully reflect the artistry of eighteenth and nineteenth century European clockmakers. This exhibition presents a selection of the finest imported clocks and watches used at the imperial court. (Organizer: Yun Limei and Qin Shiming)
Further reading: click here for Eden Wei-Yuan Cui's article on the western mechanical clocks in China.