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British heritage heads to China

JELC’s Janet Woodward tells all about The National Gallery’s recent trip to Guangzhou.

Following a meeting at October’s Brand Licensing Europe, Judith Mather, director of buying and merchandise at the UK’s National Gallery, and myself were invited to participate in the International Licensing Expo of Cultural Relic Museums in Guangzhou, China.

The invitation was a little unexpected to say the least, especially as it was only two months ahead of the event. However, being the intrepid duo we are we cleared our diaries and flew off on Southern China Airways into the unknown.

The idea behind the invitation was to enable British institutions to share with their Chinese counterparts their success in generating revenue by utilising the assets within their collections.

All Chinese museums and galleries are entirely state-funded to the extent that they don’t even have bank accounts or email addresses, so it could be a lengthy process.

However, the British contingent, which included Roderick Buchannan of the British Museum, on his second visit, not only had stands within the show, but also did talks and Q&A sessions on subjects such as ‘How to identify your relic’, ‘How to build a business plan around your commercial activities’ and a basic ‘A to Z of licensing’.


The driving force behind the initiative to build relationships between heritage institutions in China and the UK was the Minister of Culture for the Guangdong region, Director Chow.

We had dinner with him one evening and had a lively exchange of views about how the power houses of the English institutions could make their expertise available via long-term associations with the Guangdong museums.

The process was greatly helped along by Director Chow’s attitude to red wine being akin to vodka shots. After about the seventh round lots of help was promised!

We were looked after like royalty, ushered around from one wonderful feast to another with shopping trips, river boat rides and cultural visits in between.


Judith however has a phobia of crustaceans so our last night in Guangzhou was a real challenge for her.

We were taken to a famous sea food restaurant where we had to choose our dinner from what was live in the tanks – everything from crabs, prawns, alligators, even chicken testicles and sea cockroaches.

For Judith, just getting to the table was the equivalent of a Bush Tucker Challenge, but she managed it heroically.

Meanwhile, Roderick’s challenge was yet to come in the form of a foot massage. While the rest of us were soaking up the sheer joy while watching the UK premier league on TV, Roderick was suffering big time to the huge amusement of the rest of us. ‘Just make it stop’ in a very Billy Connelly accent didn’t get the right result for Roderick.

All in all we had an amazing trip, brilliantly hosted by the organisers in China. We will try very hard to forge relationships wherever possible to help the museums and galleries in Guangdong to generate revenue from their collections.

Who knows where that may lead. I just hope whenever there’s a return visit we manage to be as good hosts to them as they were to us.

Janet Woodward is joint managing director of JELC, the National Gallery Company’s licensing agency.

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