The collection was started at the end of 19th century, by Guido Maria Conforti Bishop of Parma, who believed missionaries should bring back objects from the land of missions as an evidence of popular customs and different cultures, and preserve them with educational aims for future missionaries.
The Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography of the Xaverian Missionaries in Parma has undergone a radical renovation from December 2012.
The architecture of the new museum is arranged on three levels: on the third level there are the lecture hall, offices, library, and archive room; at the intermediate level, the reception, the space for temporary exhibits and the Kayapò area; at the basement level, the area of China. At the bottom of the stairs, as visitors enter, there are four large Chinese paintings of religious inspiration: Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism, which recall the original purpose of the museum, the meeting of different civilizations and cultures.
In the renovations there are five areas: entrance area; area for temporary exhibitions; Kayapò area; Africa area and China area.
The museum was extended considerably through donations from China, Oceania, Latin America, Africa, Pakistan and Japan. Bronze items include vases, mirrors, portraits and statues dating back from the 11th century BC to 13th century AD; ceramics include two Pan Shan vases of 3.000 AD and a funerary terracotta with a tortoise and serpent dating back to 200 AD. Chinas are particularly precious and belong to the last millennium from the Hu-Suan-Te period (1426-35) to the Kang-Shi period (1662-1722). Paintings include portraits and works by Huang Ch’uan dating back to before the year one thousand; there are also several landscapes, flowers and birds. Numerous works of craftsmanship (ivory, jade, stone and wooden sculptures, amulets, enamel) are present. A collection of 8450 coins (13th century BC-1911) is not open to the public. The section devoted to ethnological finds is extremely interesting, including materials from various collections from China, Japan, Indonesia, Oceania, Pakistan, the Congo, Australia, South America and other countries all over the world (tools, instruments, prints and so on).