Although you’ve probably already seen many Chinese artifacts in museums outside of China, there’s definitely something to be said for experiencing Chinese art and history while you’re actually in China and surrounded by the landscape, people, and culture. Be sure to take a moment to really stop and think about how all these pieces have come together to shape the China you are living in today. And if that wasn’t reason enough to visit, nowadays visiting Chinese art galleries and museums won’t break the bank either.
In 2008, the Chinese government decreed that public museums and memorial halls should stop charging admission. Over the subsequent years, all major and most minor public Chinese art galleries and museums, as well as other public institutions such as libraries, have become free to the public. This move aimed to increase public interest in Chinese art and culture and make visiting museums an affordable and attractive leisure time activity for all classes of Chinese society. However, please keep in mind that, especially if you visit during peak tourist seasons, you may need to obtain a free ticket online for the day and time you want to visit a particular museum.
The National Museum of China is located on the east side of Tiananmen Square. This Chinese art and history museum was founded in 2003. At that time, the National Museum of Chinese Revolution and the National Museum of Chinese History were merged. The museum boasts 48 exhibition halls with exhibits like the Yuanmou Man, who lived 1,700,000 years ago (his teeth are the oldest artifact in the collection). The collection also includes stone tools and jade ritual objects used in prehistoric times. The museum’s top treasure is the Simuwu Rectangle Ding, the largest piece of bronze ware in China.
The Beijing Capital Museum is located in the Xicheng District. It is a Chinese art museum that was opened in 1981 and renovated in the late 1990s. It has over 200,000 cultural relics in its collection, including items from imperial China as well as ones from other Asian cultures. Only a small fraction are on display at any given time, so if you’re living in Beijing or elsewhere in China, try to come back for a second or third visit. Many of the artifacts on display were unearthed during excavations in and around Beijing.
Of course, probably the most well-known treasure trove of Chinese art and architecture in Beijing is the Forbidden City with its Palace Museum. This is given more in-depth coverage in our Tourist Attractions in China article.
The Shanghai Museum is famous for its collection of over 120,000 rare cultural relics. The building was designed to resemble an ancient Chinese ding vessel. It fully opened at its newest location south of the People’s Square in 1996. In its eleven galleries and three exhibition halls, objects such as Chinese bronze, ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, coins, sculptures, Ming and Qing furniture, and ethnic costumes are on display. You can easily spend a half or even a full day wandering through the exhibits.
The Shanghai Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine (website in Chinese) is located in the Pudong District. The museum owns a collection of over 140,000 articles related to traditional Chinese medical practices. It is divided up into a Museum of Miscellaneous Artifacts and five further themed museums – with names such as The Museum of Acupuncture, Moxibustion and Massage and The Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine Specimens. The collection also includes thousands of ancient and rare medical tracts, journals, and articles.
The Tianjin Museum (website in Chinese), located in the city of the same name, is most well-known for its architectural style. The building’s design resembles a swan spreading its wings. The museum’s unusual shape has made it one of the city’s iconic buildings. It houses a large range of historical and cultural items significant to Tianjin and the surrounding area. These include calligraphy, paintings, jade relics, bronze ware, ceramics, inkstone, seals, jiagu (inscribed bones or tortoise shells), coins, and historic documents.
The Shangdong Provincial Museum, located in Jinan, is home to over 210,000 historical artifacts and natural history collection specimens. Many of the historical objects date back to the Neolithic Dawenkou and Longshan cultures. The collection also includes many bronze artifacts from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, stone carvings from the Han dynasty, and paintings from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Highlights from the natural history exhibits are fossils from Shanwang and the fossil skeleton of a Shantungosaurus, a large duck-billed herbivorous dinosaur.
The Henan Provincial Museum located in Zhengzhou is a Chinese art and history museum. It is one of the oldest and largest museums in China, with a collection of over 130,000 artifacts spanning many dynasties. Some of its best pieces include bronze vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, as well as lots of pottery and porcelain. The museum also covers the province’s natural history and has fossils and dinosaur bones on display.
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