Tuesday, August 5, 2008


On Sunday the mother pro tempore, along with her mother, took me on a whirlwind tour of two of Beijing's museums. We had to ride the subway for an hour, walk a few blocks in scorching heat, fend off the Olympic volunteers looking for a foreigner to say something quotable, wait on line, buy tickets, find the decent exhibits, and (in my case) translate the placards. But you, Readers of the Foreign Devil, have it easy:

At the Capital Museum, I saw some of the unusual bronzes unearthed twenty years ago at Sanxingdui in Sichuan, testifying to a previously unknown ancient Chinese civilization. Sanxingdui bronzes are generally distorted depictions of men or animals; their meaning has long been lost to history.

This is a more or less typical example of early Chinese bronzeware, showing the high level of workmanship that modern craftsmen have had little success in replicating.

The Capital Museum also had a few bingmayong, the terra-cotta soldiers and horses found in the tomb of Qin Shihuang, first emperor of all China. They were all individually crafted, and plenty of them have their idiosyncracies: although you can't see it in this picture, the soldier in the back has his left hand put on backwards.

To take this picture of a jinlüyuyi, a garment made of jade worn by the deceased in their tombs, I had to reach over the heads of a crowd of museumgoers.

Next we went to the Military Museum, guarded by military police taking refuge under umbrellas bearing McDonald's ads.

Many of the exhibits at the Military Museum were just collections of old weapons. There were however a few more interesting things....

...such as this placard on the base of a rather ugly Soviet-style propaganda statue. The devils in question are, naturally, the Japanese.

Not everything at the Military Museum hewed to the party line, however. In a little-noticed display case I saw this picture, displaying the Communist and Kuomintang flags side-by-side, from the brief period of coöperation between the two parties. Elsewhere in the museum, of course, Chiang Kai-shek and his party were represented as more or less absolute evil.

Chairman Mao had pride of place in the lobby; and since I hadn't taken my obligatory photo with a Mao statue yet, I figured it was as good a chance as any.

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