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Planes, Tanks, and Automobiles

Out front

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Over the weekend (Sunday, actually) I went to go visit the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution. It was fairly infested with propaganda, but fairly interesting nonetheless. The first floor contained the Hall of Weapons, where you could go see (literally) dozens of tanks, planes, missiles, cars, etc. used in modern Chinese conflicts. Most of the exhibits tended to focus on the period from 1949 on, but there a few relics from the Republican and Civil War eras. There were also a fair number of American and European machines mixed in with the Chinese and Soviet ones. All of the signs describing everything were in Chinese, but most of the Western tanks and whatnot appeared to have been captured during the Korean War.

Moving up to the second floor, there were several cases of pistols, rifles, missiles, machine guns, etc. that you could gawk at. I kind of liked the spy weapons case, with its pen guns and glove guns and really small guns. They had also split open a few of the missiles, so you could take a peek inside the guts of a few of the missiles. This floor also had a section devoted to what appeared to be famous Chinese marshals and other influential military figures. China being China, people like Marx, Lenin, Deng, and Mao all managed to obtain (several) spots in this gallery. Most of the figures were busts, but there were also a few very large statues. At the end there were several busts that appeared to have very little relationship with Chinese military history. The most striking was the salesman, but maybe he was some sort of defense contractor?

The second floor also contained an exhibit on the Second World War (or as it’s more locally known, the War of Resistance Against Japan). It was pretty interesting. The little signs describing everything were unapologetically pro-Chinese, castigating the Japanese for their hideous war crimes. This was particularly evident in the Nanjing exhibit, where “Japanese” and “slaughter/massacre” were used in just about every description (it also included the skull of one of the Chinese victims- a little creepy). If you knew nothing else about the war, and only read the little placards (which, were also in English) scattered around the exhibit hall, you’d also come away thinking that the Chinese Communist Party pretty much won the war all by itself (while, of course, the Nationalists did everything they could to sabotage the Chinese resistance). Periods of significant Chinese defeats were described as periods of strategic non-advancement, while mention of Western influence in the Pacific theater was scant. The exhibits were very thorough though, containing original copies of memos from the party and military leadership in addition to all kinds of everyday tools used by soldiers in the war. Despite its shortcomings, it was pretty interesting.

The third floor had an exhibit on the modern Chinese military. There were several models of Chinese military equipment (including a nuclear bomb) and all kinds of pictures of the PLA training and saving people and whatnot. This floor also contained a room that held all of the gifts that the PLA has received from foreign governments and militaries. It was quite impressive, as the gifts tended to reflect the culture of the giving country. They had the room broken down into different sections based on continent, so you could wander through the African gifts onto the Asian gifts, etc. In the center of the room was a large, golden globe that was supposed to symbolize world peace or something like that. If you walked through the Hall of Gifts, on the other side of the floor was an exhibit on the European colonization of China. There were various artifacts from the two Opium Wars, the Sino-French War, and other conflicts with the West. Needless to say, the exhibit was not very complementary of 19th century Western foreign policy. There were also several large canons scattered throughout the exhibit, which apparently were used to fend off (mostly British and French) attacks on Chinese forts and ports. They actually one of the canons situated outside the museum by the main entrance, which would seem to indicate that while most Westerners are largely unfamiliar with China’s “century of shame,” it’s still very much on the minds of the military and political leadership.

The final exhibit (on the fourth floor) was on the Korean War, or “The War to Aid Korea and Resist America.” If I remember correctly, I think the Chinese actually sustained more casualties in this war than any of the other countries involved in the conflict (some people place it as high as 1.5 million). It was largely promoted as a war to check American imperialism on the Korean peninsula (which the Japanese have historically used as a staging ground for invasions of China) in addition to promoting international communist brotherhood and other such nonsense (hence the name). The exhibit largely reflected this theme, recounting the heroic efforts of the People’s Volunteer Army to save the Chinese from the imperialistic Americans. They also had a mock tunnel (they do seem to like tunnels) that gave you a glimpse of a soldier’s life in the trenches (so to speak).

I also managed to pick up a model airplane. Except this airplane is made entirely out of spent rifle shells. It’s pretty epic, my only concern is getting it on the airplane.

Art of Varying Forms


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I forgot to mention that last Friday I actually went to go see a Beijing Opera (or Peking Opera, if you’re so inclined) performance. It was interesting. The emphasis of the performance seemed to be less on the spoken words of the performers and more on their physical movements. From what I’m told, most native Chinese speakers cannot understand what the performers are saying (we were aided in this mutual deficiency by the presence of LED boards that displayed the actors’ lines in both English and Chinese). Additionally, there were relatively few oral parts in the performance (one act lacked any spoken parts at all). But the actors’ movements could, at times, be quite phenomenal and frequently resembled something of an acrobatics performance. The actors’ costumes and the accompanying band were also interesting (though the nearly incessant drum banging in Farewell My Concubine got to be a little annoying).

This week, I went to the 798 Art District. It was originally an industrial zone (before the artists invaded) and many of the galleries are housed in old warehouse buildings and factory buildings (as you can see in the above pictures). I saw several exhibits. A lot of the exhibits seemed to have a fairly political bent to them, as in the hutong recreation exhibit (which praised the simple lifestyle of Beijing’s poorer residents) and the sex worker exhibit (which didn’t really seem to be able to make up its mind about whether prostitution was a good thing or a bad thing). There was also an exhibit that re-created the life of Jesus, though in a rather odd way: every scene was garishly colored and all of the characters (including Jesus) were laughing (even post-mortem). There were also a lot of statutes about. My personal favorite was the Transformer, but there were a variety of other displays as well. We also wandered into a more “traditional” gallery, where there were pieces depicting trees and whatnot. Though, the place had a distinctly Western aire, particularly with the French music playing in the background.