Friday, July 20, 2012

Chairman Mao's Identical Twin?

The National Museum, located just off Tian'anmen Square, reopened (last year, I believe) after a long renovation that began before we moved to China in 2008.

In one sense, the National Museum is an impressive place. High ceilings, enormous floor space, 5000 years of history to draw from.

Deep down, though, my take is that there is no pressing need to go out of the way to pay a visit to the National Museum. As we have judged typical of Chinese museums, this grandest of showcases is not all that interestingly curated. We felt our minds numbing as we strolled from prehistoric times up through the Qing Dynasty, looking at artifact after artifact, many of which we felt we had seen in other museums, both in China and abroad. (Three-legged vessels are cool to look at, that's for sure, but...)

For us, perhaps the most interesting (and puzzling) experience was walking into a room decorated with huge portraits depicting Chairman Mao during different key moments in his life. The puzzling part was that one particular portrait was hanging in two different spots, catching your attention right as you stroll in. This portrait shows the Chairman, I believe, announcing the founding of the People's Republic of China. Now, I get the seminal importance of this moment, but why hang identical copies of the same painting in the same room? Is it about some kind of symmetrical presentation designed to impress the visitor? Take a look at the accompanying photos and judge for yourself.

In the end, my view has always been that China itself is a museum. Why look at multiple copies of the same painting when you can cross the street and stand in the exact spot where Chairman Mao announced the arrival of modern China?

~Steve

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