National Museum of China

This afternoon a colleague and I slipped away to check out the newly-renovated National Museum of China, formerly known as the National Museum of Chinese History and the National Museum of the Chinese Revolution.


It was originally built in 1959 as one of the “Ten Great Architectural Projects” that were  constructed around Beijing to commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It sits on the east side of Tiananmen Square, opposite it’s sister building The Great Hall of the People.


In 2007, the museum was closed for renovations– ‘renovations’ being a mild term, since the entire building, except for the outside walls facing Tiananmen Square and Chang An Avenues were completely torn down and a brand new structure was put up. In other words, from the outside, it looks exactly the same, but in fact it’s an entirely new building.  Pretty clever, if you ask me.


We were mainly interested in the permanant exhibit on China’s recent history (1800’s to the present), so spent all of our time in that section. It was OK — not enough English descriptions of the items and photos on display, and a little too heavy on the revolutionary jargon (much more than is used in the Beijing Capital Museum). And as is usually the case in historical presentations here, things move along swimmingly until 1966 and then — POOF! — it’s 1979 when China embarks on it’s Opening and Reform (they never say what they are reforming from…..).


To celebrate the achievements of the past30 years, there are displays which highlight China’s economic and technical developments.We thought it was interesting that out of all the various exhibits and displays we saw, the one that had the most people huddled around talking excitedly was the display of cell phones — old clunky ones from the early days (1990’s) to the iPhone 4!  That really got people’s attention!


What got my attention the most was the amazing view out the window of the museum, looking west, toward Tiananmen. It was a completly new perspective on the square and gate, and made even more spectacular by the fact that it was clear enough to see all the way to the Western Hills. I don’t think I have EVER seen the gate with the mountains in the background!