Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Military Museum

Yesterday we went to the Military Museum of Beijing. It was one of the most fascinating museums I've ever been to, and you'll see why.

At first, we were only really going because of Elias. He had wanted to go the previous weekend, but we ended up getting sidetracked with lunch (it seems like we're always eating over here), and so it was postponed to this Saturday. The only reason I wanted to go was to hang out with the Newton kids, because my relationship with museums has always been strained and I usually end up being bored out of my mind. This was different.

We got to the museum, which is conveniently right next to a subway stop (called Military Museum, easy enough) at around noon. The museum's free as long as you don't want to go into a boat that's on display near the entrance, in which case the cost is 5 yuan (about $.73). I went, and it wasn't all that remarkable. As you enter the museum, you're greeted by a stone statue of Mao that stands about 30 feet tall, with chambers to his sides. The first one we went into was the one dedicated to the early history of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) during the Chinese Civil War. There were lots of statues of revolutionaries cast out of different medals. In the display cases were artifacts such as letters, rifles, and paintings commissioned later to depict certain important events. It was all set up very neatly (in both senses of the word) and was interesting to look at.

The next wing we went to was the one dedicated to weapons. I'm not sure whether what we saw was real or fake, but nevertheless I wouldn't want to face it in combat. There were tanks, planes, missiles, and guns of all kinds. Some were made in China, others in Japan, and others in the USA (I know this because the signs describing them were in English and Chinese, although I can read all three in Chinese. That's very common throughout all of China). The fact that they displayed weapons made in Japan surprised us, for China and Japan have not had a history of good will. Outside they showcased more weapons and tanks, and Elias had fun playing on some of the weapons (it was really for little kids, but we're all 6 at heart :P).

The last wing we visited was by far the most interesting. I'm not sure what it was really called, but for our purposes let's call it the Propaganda Wing. At the entrance, there was a plaque describing what the wing was about. In it, it described how the Chinese people and their civilization are amazing and that all they've done has contributed invaluably to the advancement of mankind. It even mentioned Hu Jintao as "comrade," something I haven't seen since arriving in China, and a term that has fallen out of common use in the past few decades. As we made our way through the hall, we saw many very interesting things. There was a wall dedicated to Hu Jintao (as a side note, my host brother's real name, Hu Xinyuan, is the same Hu (胡) as Hu Jintao), with pictures from recent meetings with world leaders and his accomplishments since becoming Party Chairman. They showcased China's pride in being awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, which pictures of people cheering in the streets and waving signs. There were plaques commemorating the return of Hong Kong and Macao ("wiping out the hundred-year humiliation of the Chinese nation"), and the overall accomplishments of the Chinese people/nation. 

There was an entire section devoted to the Communist Party and its achievements, along with all the good things it did/has done/will do for China. This wing was extremely interesting because of just how blatant and obvious it was that it was all propaganda. Ever since coming to China, I've been keeping my eyes open so I can recognize when something has obviously been censored/Party approved, but never before has it been so obvious and in-your-face as it was here. Looking at all of it, I was thinking of how the Party controls information and tries to have people think in a certain way. Everything I saw was somehow either positive about China, or ridiculing something negative. Don't get me wrong, of course China has done many good things for its people and the world not only over the past few decades, but for thousands of years (they did invent paper, the compass, gunpowder, etc). But that doesn't erase all the bad things they've done and the bad things that have happened to them (the Cultural Revolution, Great Leap Forward, and their continued destruction of the environment), none of which got a single word of mention in the entire wing. This museum was a wonderful example to me of how the Communist Party controls what its people see and how the Chinese people perceive their nation and the Party. As we walked through this wing, we discussed how in America, if the government ever tried to create a wing of a museum that only showcased its positive accomplishments, there would likely be such an outcry from the public and the media that any plans would have to be abandoned. In China, that's not the case because the Party's word is law, but also because the Chinese people generally don't want to talk about the negative aspects of their society they know exist (the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward aren't taught in schools), and would rather flaunt the positive elements.

I'm going to post several pictures of the museum here and in other posts, including all the plaques I described above. I encourage you to read all of them so you can see what I'm talking about with your own eyes.

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