China-focused Satire, Social Commentary, Comics and More

This Ridiculous World Guide: China – Museums

Part One: The Patrons

A Chinese museum is a fascinating place. Not because of the exhibitions of history. No, in a country with a heritage longer than that of Jesus the ubiquitousness of artifacts is less impressive than expected. Nowadays, with a proliferation of middle class Chinese people embracing all forms of consumerism, even intellectual, the museums have become as crowded as the subways and these hordes of proud patriots make for some grade A people watching.

They come at the individual visitor in noisy swarms of elbows and camera flashes waving and yelling and dragging each other from one showcase to the next, overwhelmed as a dog at a busy hydrant. Because orderly lines do not exist, thick glass protective cases are in order, often reinforced with ropes swung between heavy metal posts. Through the smudges of thousands of fingerprints, behind the glass, under small, carefully directed lights is a button or a bowl or a letter opener from perhaps a king, farmer, or a scientist. Though this artifact has no direct relation to these masses and their lack of attention directed toward their tour guide seems to indicate little, if any, interest in actually knowing what the item’s use was, you must remember that each little piece of history represents the Chinese people as a collective whole and each individual person needs proof of his or her personal ownership of that ancestry.

Above the mess of camera flashes, dark suits and stiletto heels an occasional glimpse of a tour flag indicates the source of a screeching uninterrupted commentary and often the eye of any particular tourist cyclone. The flag centered masses compete with other guided cyclones pushing and shoving their way against each other, not unlike trash in a compactor. Each group attempting to own, however temporarily, the prime location along the smudged glass case and within each group a similar struggle for the best photo angle. After all, that’s the second most important thing about going to a museum: getting closer than anyone else to each artifact so it is adequately in-focus and filling as much of the frame not consumed by your head and “v” shaped fingers as possible.

2 Responses to “This Ridiculous World Guide: China – Museums”

  1. And there’s nothing quite like being a lao wai in a crowded Chinese setting. Based on the stares, you would think the foreigner is more novel than the 4,000 year old artifacts all over the museum.

    • Editors says:

      I think the word “novel” is key. Often foreigners are newer and more unusual than a dirty metal horse figurine. In fact, experts project that as many as 90% of Chinese tourists tour for the sole purpose of viewing foreigners in what they assume is their native habitat. The foreigners have to come from somewhere after all.

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