The world’s biggest museum opened its doors to the public this week, and you will probably not be too surprised to hear it’s in Beijing.
The People’s Daily says the National Museum of China covers 200,000 square metres and “dwarfs any other museum in the world”.
Then again, it’s not a completely new project. The museum had long existed on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square. But ahead of the 2008 Olympics the country’s leaders deemed it a national embarrassment: not big enough, poorly lit and not housing enough of China’s greatest treasures.
Accordingly, a massive Rmb2.5 billion renovation and construction programme was undertaken to bring it up to par with the world’s great museums – as well as reflect China’s rising international status. The Ministry of Culture then sent out a diktat to other museums around the country, requiring that they ship many of their most prized artefacts to the capital (the old museum’s collection was heavily skewed towards coins).
The newly reopened museum showcases 3,000 artefacts of Chinese culture in a state-of-the-art setting. If you are in Beijing, here’s the four must-see objects to look out for:
Si Mu Da Fang Ding
Cooking vessel from Late Shang (1400-1100 BC). This huge Ding is the heaviest of the bronzes retrieved so far. With the three characters Si Mu Wu inscribed on the body, the Ding was cast for King ZuGeng or ZuJia of Shang to offer sacrifice to his mother. Its forging would have required over 1,000kg of metal and demonstrates the technical level of bronze casting in the Shang Dynasty.
Si Yang Fang Zun
Late Shang Dynasty wine vessel, featuring a sheep in relief on each of its four corners. Its edges are decorative engravings and its shoulders are ornamented with four dragons. Also made from bronze.
Tang Sai Cai Qi or Tang tricolour figurines
A pottery figurine of a dancer and musicians riding a camel was unearthed in 1957 in Xi’an, Shaanxi and dates from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). With yellow, white and green as the basic glaze, it is famous for vivid form and bright colour. Its association with the Silk Road (the camel imagery) reflects the cosmopolitan nature of China’s trade links during the Tang Dynasty.
Jin Lu Yuyi (or jade burial suit)
The foremost example of burial suits worn by emperors and the senior elite in the Han Dynasty (206 BC ~ AD 220). Yuyi was a status symbol. It belonged to Liu Sheng (Prince Jing of Zhongshan) and is made of 2,498 pieces of jade, with more than 1kg of gold thread, and took 100 craftsmen more than two years to complete. It caused an international sensation when it was discovered in 1968.
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