The colonial past is often a key factor in the museum representation of other cultures; and as such it has legitimately been at the core of the reflection on museums‚Äô approaches to alterity. However; I want to argue that the analysis should not be confined to colonialist or post-colonialist historical perspectives; but remain open to include contemporary socio-political and economic factors. The British Museum case study suggests that the economy of travel; the evolution of consumer tastes and demands; renewed opportunities for commercial exchange and business enterprise; an important Chinese community in London and the UK; and global scale media events such as the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games (hosted by China); are all factors that affect museums and museum representations; to the extent that they impact on audiences; on their tastes; interests and expectations. It is of crucial importance to acknowledge that museums are becoming increasingly receptive vis-√†-vis such patterns of change; all the more if of global scale.
Methodologically; the arguments put forward in this paper rest on an analysis of the museological choices underlying the displays in the Chinese permanent gallery and the temporary exhibition ‚ÄúThe First Emperor: China‚Äôs Terracotta Army‚ÄĚ aimed at disentangling the narrative lines underlying the exhibitions.
Through this analysis I wish to suggest that the museum representation of the Chinese ‚ÄėOther‚Äô at the British Museum rests on two different; though complementary; narrative lines. On the one hand; in the permanent gallery; the Museum is carrying on its ‚Äėtraditional‚Äô function as a public education institution. On the other; in temporary exhibition; the Museum is responding to the demand for cultural consumption of its increasingly consumption-oriented audiences.