Chinese Museums Association Guide

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Table of Contents
Section1: Beijing and the North
Section2: The Northeast
Section3: Shanghai and the East China
Section4: The Yangtze
Section5: The South
Section6: The Silk Road and the Northwest
Section7: Tibet
Section8: Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan
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This book, edited by the Chinese Museums Association (CMA), is based on China:Museums published in 2009. All the museums included are related to the CMA, so anumber of the original entries have been deleted, while others have been added.
Since our first edition, China’s museum building explosion has continued. In 2008, the official count was 2,310 and by 2012 had increased to over 3,000 with about 100 newmuseums being built annually. This official count excludes private museums, new art centres and vibrant districts and villages dedicated to contemporary art and culture.
Beginning in the Republican Period and accelerating after 1949, China established a system of national, provincial and city museums. New museums of world-class quality were opened, such as those in Nanjing and Shanghai.
Unlike in the West, these museums collected, almost exclusively, Chinese art and artefacts. This is still the case, in large part, but the situation is evolving, as Chinese audiences are exposed to more travelling exhibitions from the finest museums in the world and as galleries and individuals begin to collect from other cultures as well as their own.
Out-of-date exhibition practices are quickly disappearing from Chinese museums and being replaced with more modern displays which are attracting large numbers of people. Additionally, the Chinese government has made all state museums and memorials (except ancient architecture and site museums) free of charge. The number of buildings undergoing renovation and modernization, as well as the construction of compelling and innovative new structures, is staggering. Every day, new private collections and government-sponsored museums open their doors.
The key national and provincial museums, e.g. the Capital Museum in Beijing and the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an, present their displays historically. Every province has its own museum dedicated to the history and culture of that region. Exhibitions are didactic in nature, showing the development of Chinese history through its art, neatly compartmentalized by dynasty or material. Over time, these museums have also acquired newly excavated treasures in the wave of stunning archaeological finds after 1949. From this period as well, a fervent pride in the new state and its institutions emerged, leading to the founding of institutions such as the Military Museum in Beijing and the Naval Museum in Qingdao. Is the government’s purpose to use the artefacts in these venues to highlight the creation of China as a unified centralized state, in addition to showing their aesthetic value? Foreign visitors are often left with this impression. The emphasis on viewing objects with an eye to history rather than for its own sake can be seen in the common practice among Chinese museums of exhibiting copies of originals – and not always thus marked. This can occur even in a so-called ‘Treasure Room’, where a copy or cast is lovingly displayed as the real thing; it is not necessarily meant as a deception, rather the object itself may be deemed too valuable to risk exposure. This situation is likely to change with the creation of more modern museums, with ever better methods of conservation and tighter security.
Archaeological sites are now some of the most exciting art destinations in China, as new museums are built in situ and excavation pits are opened to the public – a trend that began with the Terracotta Warriors. Although, traditionally, the best finds went to the provincial museum or to Beijing, site museums are now able to start displaying their treasures in newly built, state-of-the-art galleries located at the excavation site. Great exhibitions of Chinese art are now being shown in the West, but, if able, do see the original collections in situ. No travelling exhibition can give more than a vestigial understanding of the impact of the Terracotta Warriors amassed in their burial pit the size of an aircraft hangar; or of the alternating intimacy and grandeur of the Forbidden City; or of the radiant magic of the great ancient bronze collection in Shanghai.
It is intended that the selection and presentation of museums will contribute to the quality of a visit to China and to the beginning of an enhanced understanding of Chinese art, culture, society and history.

Miriam Clifford, Cathy Giangrande, Antony White
Chinese Museums Association Guide