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Capsules of history  

2012-12-03 08:44:55|  分类: 部分新闻作品 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Capsules of history

Exhibits include the abacus, an ancient Chinese calculator, in different shapes and sizes displayed in its own museum in Nantong. Xu Congjun / for China Daily

Capsules of history

A necklace of museums rings the city of Nantong, telling China's story from audits to embroidery, Wang Kaihao reports. 

I am a fan of museums, because I think visiting a museum is the fastest way to get to know local history and culture. 

Nantong, a city in the east of Jiangsu province, is a big bonus to the museum lover. 

While wandering around the 10-km long Haohe River, one of the few remaining city moats in the country, I found more than 20 museums. Such a layout, which resembles a miniature version of the Washington Mall's Smithsonian museums, is not common in China - and the museums all have a nice view of the water, which Smithsonian does not. 

Some museums are not big, but interesting. The China Abacus Museum may be the country's only public museum to give such a comprehensive introduction to this ancient Chinese calculator. 

I found that the abacus, which I had learned to use in elementary school, could be an artwork - like a tiny one carved into a bangle. 

The China Audit Museum vividly presents formal accounting methods throughout the nation's economic development. 

There I encountered groups of college students who had taken a few hours' bus ride from Nanjing Audit University for a lesson outside the classroom. 

While I was wondering why these museums with the word "China" in their names are not based in Beijing, I arrived at Nantong Museum, the largest one among the cluster, first built in 1905. 

A new building covering an area of 6,330 square meters with white walls and green tiles, looking like a big traditional countryside residence, was constructed in 2005 for the museum's 100th birthday. 

"The Forbidden City in Beijing turned into the Palace Museum in 1925, 20 years after the founding of Nantong Museum," says Qian Hong, the museum's former curator. 

"So you are visiting China's first public museum." 

The city was built in AD 956 as a military depot. While most museums in China proudly exhibit their abundant antiques, this relatively young city prefers to show examples of its diverse folk arts and industrial heritages in modern times, much of which was attributed to Zhang Jian, who died in 1926. 

Zhang, who was also the museum's founder, is known for his role as the city's father. 

A three-story British-style villa stands at the corner of the museum complex. It is called "Haonan Bieye", which literally means "another property in the south of Haohe River". 

"Zhang preferred to live close to his workplace," Qian says. So he bought this villa, located next to the museum, as his permanent residence in 1914. 

Inside, pictures and items from Zhang's legendary life are on exhibit. His story will satisfy any movie director looking for a script to the "Chinese Dream". 

Zhang was born in Haimen, a small town to the east of Nantong. He was setting up his business in Nantong when the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) broke out. 

"Industry is the father while education is the mother," that is how Zhang described learning from the devastating war and his quest to help build a newly-born country. 

Zhang planned a modern city there to set a good example for the whole of China. 

He first founded Dah Sung Cotton Mill in 1895. This textile conglomerate soon became a moneymaker, which encouraged him to expand into other industries. 

Nantong's industrial output in 1913 ranked second in China, after its neighbor Shanghai. 

Zhang built China's first professional drama school, meteorological station and a school for the deaf and mute, according to Qian. 

Many schools he established later developed into universities. Zhang spent a lot of money hiring top artists and scholars to teach in the schools. 

Zhang also invited talented embroidery artist Shen Shou (1874-1921) to open her school here, teaching the skills to local women in a two-story cabin by the Haohe River. 

It is now a museum exhibiting marvelous embroidery pieces. 

Shen combined Western oil painting and Chinese traditional painting to create extraordinarily lifelike embroidery. 

The embroidery is listed as a national intangible cultural heritage, and a sample was given as a state gift to US President Barack Obama during his visit to China in 2009. 

Indeed, the whole city is like a big museum. 

Zhang gathered people to build Nantong's modern infrastructure and many buildings still remain. 

One of China's top architects, Wu Liangyong, calls Nantong "the first city of China in modern times." 

After having my fill of the museums, I rode a bus for half an hour to the town of Tangzha to see a newly established creative park, which covers an area of 13.66 hectares in an abandoned industrial area. 

It is rare to see such a large area of old workshop clusters built in the early 1900s. 

My guess is, many artists may swarm to establish galleries and studios, turning the area into another holy land for artists like Beijing's 798 Art Zone. 

For now, a slightly desolate feeling reflects the vicissitude of Zhang's utopian ambitions. 

The main building was once an oil-pressing factory built in 1902; the oil seeds coming from Dah Sung's cotton, while scrap oil was used for making soap. 

The broken windows have been repaired, while the mottled black-and-gray walls are still dotted with broken bulbs. 

I wondered if the designer kept it that way on purpose for the nostalgic flavor. 

"It is a living fossil of industry," says Zhu Jin, Nantong's deputy mayor. "However we expect it to be a new space for creativity to embrace the future." 

Contact the writer at wangkaihao@chinadaily.com.cn. 

Ding Congrong contributed to this story. 

 Capsules of history

From top: The 107-year-old Nantong Museum, covered in a blanket of snow, has witnessed the birth of the city's industries in the early 20th century. Xu Congjun / for China Daily

A large area of old workshop clusters built in the early 1900s has been turned into a creative park in Tangzha town. Provided to China Daily

A traditional weaving machine draws the attention of Norwegian visitors to a museum in Nantong. Xu Congjun / for China Daily

Capsules of history

(China Daily 11/29/2012 page19)

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