Tullie House heads East … Part Two

Andrew, our Head of Collections and Programming recently traveled to China with our Learning and Engagement Manager Anna, who has written a blog about working with a couple of museums on how to engage with children and young people. 

After Anna headed back to the UK, Andrew stayed in China to experience some more of the country’s rich heritage and culture. He’s written a short blog to let us know what he got up to.

…after leaving Anna in Suzhou I traveled to Shanghai, then flew 856 miles to Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Warriors, and then took a five hour bus journey (of only 215 miles) through the mountains to the small city (only 3.5m residents!) of Tianshui in Gansu Province.

I intended to visit Tianshui to experience what was described as the ‘Silk Road Festival’ but what turned out to be an annual celebration of Fuxi (pronounced Foo-she), the ‘founder’ of Chinese culture. Fuxi is a cultural hero in China credited with creating humanity and the invention of hunting, fishing and cooking as well as Ying & Yang and the system of writing Chinese characters.

This Fuxi Festival included large, mass performing arts, demonstrations of ancient traditions, modern drama, music, song and dance performances.

This Fuxi Festival included large, mass performing arts, demonstrations of ancient traditions, modern drama, music, song and dance performances.

After the ceremony, the famous Ming Dynasty (15th century) Fuxi Temple is opened to the public for free, so that the masses of visitors can worship.

After the ceremony, the famous Ming Dynasty (15th century) Fuxi Temple is opened to the public for free, so that the masses of visitors can worship.

Because Tianshui is so isolated from the more industrialised east coast of China very few people have seen a western person. This made me extremely popular and a major draw for photographers, TV companies and even people wanting a ‘selfie’ with a visitor from the West!

Tianshui also has several museums and I visited three. The Folk Art Museum is located in a traditional Chinese house which comprises several rooms around open courtyards. The museum displayed historic artefacts in their original setting so the kitchen had material from the Quing Dynasty (nineteenth century) and the bedroom had a period box bed and so on. In addition to the roomsets the museum also had a room for showing shadow puppet performances and a theatre for showing traditional Chinese Opera.

The colourful Chinese Opera at the Folk Art Museum, where men dress as women and vice versa.

The colourful Chinese Opera at the Folk Art Museum, where men dress as women and vice versa.

The City Museum is linked to the Fuxi temple and has hugely impressive archaeology and history collections but has very little by way of interpretation or engagement – it seems that visitors are expected to know or understand a certain amount of history, which may be true for local people but is certainly not the case when it comes to international visitors.

I met with Mr Lee the museum’s Director and gave a presentation on Tullie House to his staff. Mr Lee explained that the museum (which is roughly the same size as Tullie House) has 200 staff (Tullie has less than 50) and attracts about 30,000 visitors per year (Tullie has 270,000). Mr Lee showed me the museum’s new temporary exhibition gallery which was displaying a collection of artwork from a famous but recently deceased Chinese artist (which I wasn’t allowed to photograph). The aim was to attract new or repeat visitors to the museum through the temporary exhibition programme. However, Mr Lee felt that this first exhibition wasn’t necessarily a success.

The third museum I visited was directly opposite the Folk Art Museum and was owned by the City Council but run through a management agreement by the Shan family. Mr Shan Snr is a highly regarded artist and successful businessman and his son (my host for the week) runs a business from Guangzhou promoting artists and cultural projects. Mr Shan’s museum is, like the Folk Art Museum, located in an historic house. It features artwork and a fabulous historic book collection but it is also significantly lacking collections and any real purpose. The Shan’s have therefore asked Tullie House for their ideas on how the museum might develop. There may well be more to report on this in the future…

Andrew Mackay, Head of Collections and Programming

Tullie House’s work with museums in China is ongoing – keep an eye out for exciting partnerships and events coming up!

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Posted on August 16, 2015, in Community and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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