The museum is the only one in the north of England devoted entirely to the art and archaeology of the Orient. It houses collections from across the region, including more than 10,000 objects in its Designated Chinese collections that tell the history of China and its people.
The museum was established in the 1950s with the aim to provide students of the university access to the material culture of the countries they were studying.
But as the role of museums in contemporary society has changed, the Oriental Museum’s aims have changed as well to provide access to members of the public as well as academic students and researchers.
Since 2012, the museum has also housed Durham Chinese School, which provides language classes and interest clubs such as chess every Sunday during term time.
The school acts as a cultural and social hub for Chinese and China-related community activities in the northeast of England, and runs cultural, social and educational events in collaboration with wider communities – which fits in with some of the museum’s own activities.
Craig Barclay, curator at the Oriental Museum, says: “We stepped in to provide a new base for Durham Chinese School when it was forced to vacate its previous home.
“We see ourselves as having a central role as a bridge between Durham University and our local communities, and it seemed appropriate to us that we should support the Chinese School in any way we could.
“It is lovely to have the museum at the centre of the community and to provide a place where members of the regional Chinese community can celebrate their culture and language surrounded by wonderful South Asian art. “
For the school and its pupils, the museum is more than just a base.
Mamtimyn Sunuodula, headteacher of Durham Chinese School, says: “The rich Chinese cultural artefacts displayed at Durham University’s Oriental Museum and the inspiring cultural activities it organises for young learners have been extremely important for enhancing our students’ cultural and linguistic education, as well as enriching the lives of our adult members at Durham Chinese School.
“It helps us to relate the past with the present, China with Britain and develop intercultural competence and pluralistic worldview of our students.”