Friday, December 16, 2016

The National Museum of China

National Museum of China, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China (May 22, 2016)

With over 2,2 million square feet of display space, the National Museum of China is one of the largest in the world, and it is visited by 7.5 million visitors every year. The museum is on the east side of Tiananmen Square. Still tired after the long walk the day before, we decided to make it our destination, after strolling for some time under the Tiananmen Square relentless sun.

Terracotta Army
The museum is in fact two different museums combined. One part is dedicated to the history of China through the ages, literally, the first artifact being the 1.7 million years old Yanmu Man (元謀人). The other side is instead dedicated to a somewhat hagiographic portrait of the legacy of the Chinese Revolution. I don't need to tell you which side we visited... It was actually worth it. The collection of ancient artifacts, revealing how China had a very refined culture at time when our progenitors were still living in caves, is impressive. The bronze artifacts, in particular, are stunning: some of them are incredibly massive (there is a rectangular vessel weighting more than 800 kg), but at the same time have most delicate ornaments and inscriptions. Whoever made them really knew their craft. The museum has sections covering each and every dynasty in the long history of China. Each with a different style, a different concept of art. One small display has a sample of the famous "terracotta army", with one horse and two soldiers. I was happy to see it there since the whole thing is far from Beijing, impossible for me to visit during this trip.

Blue and white porcelain vase
A large section of the museum is dedicated to the ceramic wares. This is an art that China has been developing for tens of thousand of years, with the first pottery produced in neolithic times, almost 20,000 years ago. The blue and white porcelains (青花, literally "blue flowers") are the ones that I found more appealing, like the vase in the small photo on the right. This is a style that dates back from the 9th to the 14th century, when the blue pigment based on cobalt minerals were first imported from Persia. It is interesting how the technique, after being perfected by Chinese artists, found its way back to the middle east, inspiring a renaissance of ceramic production with islamic themes. The world is after all is small, and goes in circles... Other interesting sections of the museum were the one dedicated to the development of Chinese writing, and the innumerable artifacts with astronomical significance, like the many maps of the sky, with the stars grouped in the strangely familiar yet alien patters of the Chinese constellations. We spent the whole afternoon in the museum, until one by one our legs and backs started to give way to age (well, at least in my case), and we finally made our way back to the train station under Tiananmen Square, and to the hotel for dinner and the final rest before the first day of our conference meeting.

Floral Exposition in front of the National Museum of China, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China (May 22, 2016)

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