The National Museum of China

Nicholas Quirke was informed that Lao wai’s could now go to the National museum, he had attempted to visit previously when the doors opened for the first time after restrictions had been imposed but due to his foreigner status he was prohibited but now, on 9 June 2020 was the first time he would be permitted to enter this huge halllowed space on the corner of Tiananmen Square. He had not managed to achieve much on 8 June 2020, as he was supposed to be meeting a friend for tea but they cancelled him and he had an appointment with Apple Genius to try and resolve his iPad, ICloud isues which were starting to really bug him. The appointment took a long time and nothing was sorted out as they too seemed to have a problem with the ICloud server. This took up much of his time on the 8th, and he decided to consign the day to the the rubbish bin, with the only positive items being the purchase of some navy blue linen shorts from Muji, contact from his friend Penny Parker, with whom he was going to revive his podcast and a message from Eileen who paid in a tax rebate check for him. This left him time to focus on Museum. He still needed to go along on the day, and he would have to breach the security to get him into Tiananmen Square from where he could get an on the day ticket. The ticket was free, all the exhibitions were free and though he knew he could return he still managed to spend 5 hours on his feet studying in detail the exhibits, and this did not include the 45 minutes it took him to get through security, with the police being extraordinarily vigilant and repeatedly going over his paperwork. An alarm bell rang and he hoped that he would not have this problem extending his travel visa at the end of July. Once he was inside it was clear that the propaganda machine was well and truly oiled. The sculptures that were scattered around the vast, cavernous central hall were studies of courage, forbearance and morality. They were, without doubt, objects of great beauty but the political messages to the Chinese people is crystal clear. The major exhibition, Ancient China, it immense halls guarded by a towering sculpture of Confucious, guides us through early mans history and through the 3500 years of Chinese Civilisations written history. It is a remarkable Fascinating journey though there does seem to be a certain amount of stagnation with nothing changing for centuries. What really took him by surprise was the sighting of a jade shroud which he realised he had seen decades before, and indelibly printed into his memory, in the 70s when he went with the school and his brother to London to the Victoria and Albert to see an Exhibition of Chinese Treasures. He believed he still had the postcard. Many of the exhibits were full of character and charm and beauty and he found it almost impossible not to photograph everything he saw. He had an iced tea in the cafe before taking in the Road to Rejuvenation.This was a history lesson in the appalling acts of barbarism conducted in the name of the British Empire and he could think of a few more statues that needed to be toppled for honouring, senseless destruction and opportunism. Give back the Elgin marbles, strip bare the British museum of its plunder. The journey through late 19th Century China, the death throes of the Dynastic System and the road to Mao’s China and beyond was an equally thrilling and engaging experience, though it had its challenges as aside from the room descriptions everything was in Chinese, and the had to use an app to translate some of the exhibits. He couldn’t do this for every picture and he may have missed some important issues but he got the gist, though he was conscious that there may have been a little glossing over some of the excesses of Mao’s reign in particular he didn’t see much that dwelt on the famines of the Great Leap Forward or the destructions of The Cultural Revolution, he spotted a picture relating to the Gang off Four but did not see much about their malign influence. Of course the development of China and its opening up to the influences of the west, the 2008 Olympic were celebrated and heralded and by the time he left he felt submerged in history and utterly exhausted. It was a quiet evening thought he did Zoom with Penny and recorded a test Podcast for a new broadcast on his experience in China, ‘From Lockdown to Liberty in the Land of the Red Dragon’. Feeling inspired he went to bed.


  1. Nick, you have the postcard and I have the book: Genius of China at the Royal Academy Sept ’73 to Jan ’74!

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