Chinese national museum

It’s raining today. Not a big deal but yesterday’s weather forecast said hot, no clouds. In fact most days the weather report has been wrong. I don’t think the weather forecasters are inept, I think it is the pollution. When I first flew in, the whole of China – about 3 hours before landing in Beijing – was under cloud cover (we flew above it). I’m almost certain it wasn’t cloud, it was smog. I think that the weather forecasters haven’t got a clue because they can never see the surface of the earth in China because of the smog. Still haven’t seen the sun since I arrived.

The museum. Stunning large polished granite building. Apparently the largest museum building in the world. 200 000 square metres of floor space (a rugby field is 5 000 square metres so this is 40 rugby fields of floor space). The displays are well spaced out and beautifully presented so all in all a great experience. The entrance is free ;). This is the entrance hall – about 150m long.

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The museum has about 30 galleries on topics such as prehistoric, ancient bronze, jade carvings, the tools and artworks of the dynasties, all the way up to the present so it includes the recent history of the People’s Revolution. There is quite a bit of propaganda covering the last 60 years but if you look between the fluff you can see the truth coming out. I really came here to get an understanding of this culture and this is really helping. Regardless of a person’s political views this is truly an amazing civilisation with such a strong heritage.

Of course there’s are lots of Ming vases and I know these things can be valued in the millions but the scary thing is I can’t see any difference between these ones and the ones on sale in the markets at RMB30. What do I know?

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One hall that I really liked was a progression of paintings showing the conflict and rise of the CPC (Communist Party of China). Chairman Mao features prominently in most of them and it shows a graphical story of events – like reading a comic book. Easy on the brain. I’m not a fan of communism but I am fascinated by strong leaders, people who have vision and can influence huge numbers through just the strength of their convictions. I particularly liked this painting and I stood on that spot and can imagine it taking place.

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Another very kitch but interesting display shows all the gifts given to the government leaders by overseas dignatories – silver eagle by Gerald Ford (USA), copper animal wall mounting by Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), curved daggers from just about every middle eastern kingdom, wooden masks from Africa and so on. They say there are about 600 on display so I won’t go through them all. Phew. Zuma gave a wooden carving of some buffaloes. The display notice says “cattle”.

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I was looking hard for a wooden giraffe from Zimbabwe but couldn’t find one.¬† These are probably the things I would like to bring back home if I ever visited these countries (got to bring back a shrunken head from Borneo) so it was a bit of a touristy thing for me. The not so cool gifts were the ivory carvings. Thank goodness nobody gave a rhino horn. Often a poor country gave a really over the top gift – probably as a show-off gesture. The UK prime ministers always gave simple gifts – silver trinket box, silver cup.

They also had a really cool display on how they constructed their buildings, you know the ones with the upturned corners? The only rigid parts of the buildings are the columns and they have intricate patterns of wooden blocks that slot on top of the columns in a 3D grid pattern. No glue, no nails. So with just the force of gravity these structures can stand for thousands of years. The oldest wooden structure is in fact a thousand years old. The imperial structures use this method and have porcelain blocks. They will be around for a very long time. Here’s a mockup of a corner block unit (sorry, light not too good).

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The reason the corners are always turned up is because it brings good luck. The expensive homes have ornate carved animals on the spines and corners of the roofs.

Off to the Olympic Sports Complex this afternoon.

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