Navigation auf


Ethnographic Museum

Looted Goods? 5 Questions on Objects from China at the End of the Imperial Era

3 March 2023 to 12 May 2024


"From the looting of Peking" it says of inventory no. 01838, "Carved teak wood panelling with animal figures, floral arabesques". Together with fine silk robes, porcelains, bronzes, scroll paintings and shoes for bound feet, these objects reached Zurich. Looted goods?

The label "From the looting of Peking" refers to the Boxer War. At the end of the 19th century, the anti-Christian, anti-colonial Boxer movement was formed in northern China. In 1900-1901, eight foreign armies joined forces in the war against the Boxers and advanced as far as inside the imperial palace in Beijing. A power vacuum provided space for looting on a massive scale. Large quantities of valuables, pieces of art and everyday objects ended up in the hands of officers and soldiers, of dealers and, in the long run, in museums and collections worldwide.

The exhibition takes an inquiring look at possible looted goods from China from around 1900 in Swiss collections. What has become of them? How should we deal with them? What significance do the objects have for Chinese people today? What should we communicate about them?

Twenty-eight pairs of shoes for bound feet and: looted goods?
Twenty-eight pairs of shoes for bound feet are preserved in the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich. In the 19th century, they were the adornment of a woman in China, but within a short time they became a stain, and: looted goods? Photo: Kathrin Leuenberger, 2023.


Workspace Series – 5 Questions on the Collections

What kind of museum does the future need? We turn to the collections and their creators with long-lasting and new questions, for example: "How and why did the objects come into our museum?" We think of the museum as an open workspace, a space for collaborative exploration and research. Along with an exhibition series, we offer insights into our work. The exhibition "Looted Goods?" followed "Honeymoon?" and "Business Idea?" as the third opening in this series. In July 2023, the fourth exhibition "Mask Dances?" has opened; in November 2023 the final workspace exhibition "Workpieces?" has completed the series.

Weiterführende Informationen


Dr. Mareile Flitsch, curator and the Ethnographic Museum's director