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Donated relics to help revive image of old Beijing
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-02-21 06:08

Suo Daming is a 16th-generation descendant of a Beijing family which has lived in the city since the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Now he has finally found an ideal place for a treasured collection of items handed down by his relatives over the past 360 years.

That place is the Capital Museum, expected to open a new building displaying collections from Beijing residents to the public this year.

The collection Suo presented to the museum includes everyday articles from 100 years ago and coupons to buy rationed oil, food and other goods during the planned economy period between the 1950s and the late 1970s.

He also handed over evidence of the old layout of Beijing that has gradually disappeared in recent years with all the new construction.

One of the most eye-catching pieces is an old icebox - literally a box containing ice - made of coloured glaze.

Suo Yibo, Suo Daming's 85-year-old grandfather, said it was used when he was a boy.

"An icebox kept food cool. I remember Beijing had several ice storage centres then and special workers would send blocks of ice to different households everyday. The ice my family used came from a storage place by the Shichahai Lake," said Suo Yibo.

Another interesting article is an old plate from Jinxiu Alley, one of the numerous traditional alleys that have disappeared because of massive construction.

Suo Daming said his family had lived in a traditional courtyard building in Jinxiu Alley for many years before it was demolished to give way to a road expansion in 1997.

"My family cherished a deep affection for the alley and our old house; we had a plaque made to mark the alley and have kept it as a memento," said Suo Daming.

He added: " If I did not keep these items properly, I would be an unworthy heir to my ancestors. My grandfather, my father and I all think the museum is the perfect place to hold these treasures."

Wang Chuncheng, a museum official in charge of collecting historical relics from the public, said the museum has collected more than 22,000 sets of ancient treasures in the past four years for the new building at the Capital Museum.

Wang said the collections from ordinary people in Beijing, most of which date from between 1840 and 1950, reflect how times have changed.

The articles will be displayed in prominent places in the new building on Chang'an Boulevard.

Wang said the articles relate to many subjects including Beijing's politics, economy, military, culture and religion.

"These articles can tell us about the lives and work of people from more than one century ago, as well as how the city looked in the past.

"For instance, a 92-year-old woman surnamed Feng gave goods she used when she was young such as silver hairpins, embroidered shoes and a hand-warmer decorated with patterns of Chinese plum flowers. With these, people may visualize the image of a young woman from a family of good social standing in the past, just like a lady described in the classic novel 'A Dream of the Red Mansions,'" said Wang.

"Behind each of the collections is an interesting story about a person, a family, and a story of art or industry," Wang added.

He said he is still looking for more relics. Anyone who might be able to help him should telephone 6403-1357.

(China Daily 02/21/2005 page3)

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