Asem Special

Display offers rare insight into life in China

By Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-04 07:39
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MANCHESTER, United Kingdom - Dressed in a red-and-black tight shirt and dark skinny jeans with a pair of Dr Marten's boots and wearing a pair of Harry Potter-style glasses, the curly haired Stephen Welsh looks like a member of a boy band.

But the 29-year-old is actually Manchester Museum's curator of living culture and also a person who has always been enthusiastic about Chinese culture and history despite not getting a chance to study it at the university where he turned to Mediterranean archaeology instead.

Years after graduation, his China dream was finally fulfilled at work when his museum started a nine-month exhibition of Chinese historical and cultural relics named China: Journey to the East.

Welsh is the key man behind the exhibition.

"I really didn't know much about China (before) but, as I became more aware, I read about the significance of Chinese civilization and culture, which is something we never touched upon in university, which is - I think - a bit of tragedy," Welsh said.

He is hoping the exhibition attracts plenty of students and fills the educational gap.

The exhibition spans 3,000 years of Chinese history and culture, exploring the five themes of play and performance, technology, belief and festivals, food and drink, and language and writing.

It opened in Manchester on Sept 25 and will last until June 26, 2011. The exhibition features more than 100 objects from the British Museum as well as an ancient bronze chime lent by Wuhan municipal museum, which Welsh visited in January.

The exhibition presents key enduring Chinese inventions such as an old abacus made of wood with porcelain beads decorated with dragons and metal rods, a compass made of wood and metal from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and other silk and porcelain items.

Highlights include a beautiful Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) stoneware incense burner modeled in high relief with a dragon and phoenix, wonderfully detailed shadow puppets made in the 19th century of donkey hide in the form of a sedan chair with sedan carriers, and even an ancient oracle bone and an example of calligraphy written by chairman Mao Zedong.

Though it is not the biggest ongoing exhibition in the Manchester Museum, Welsh is confident that it will become one of the most popular and says he hopes the total number of visitors could reach 100,000, some one in five of the city's population.

"It's amazing," said local resident Melanie Morgan, 30, after checking out the exhibition. "My interest in China was inspired by the growing Chinese community in this city. Now, I'm really curious about the country's history, culture and way of life."

That is exactly what Welsh hopes local people will get from the exhibition because "China is going to be a much more influential force in the lives of the British people".

"To try to find some provision to help British people familiarize themselves with Chinese culture, history and language, one way you can do that is through museums and galleries," he said.

In order to make the exhibition a unique one, he has even included abstracts from his journal written during his trip to Central China's Wuhan in January.

It was his only trip to China and he said one week was not enough. It left him with unforgettable moments ranging from learning to use chopsticks to chatting about the Beatles and English Premier League football.

But the most impressive moment was when he was standing on top of the Yellow Crane Tower, Wuhan's landmark.

"It is renowned throughout China and has inspired many poems, most famously by Cui Hao in the 8th century and Mao Zedong in 1927. From the top of the tower, even on a misty day, it is easy to understand how the view made those poets feel," said an entry in his journal on display in the exhibition hall.

China Daily

(China Daily 10/04/2010 page6)