Saturday, March 17, 2012

A journey into the past: Shaanxi History Museum

Thursday morning dawned with rain, which, while it cleared away the smog, also cleared away our plans for visiting the drum tower and the Muslim quarter.  Perhaps it is better, since the small bills we had stockpiled for Scottish-style trading ended up being the equivalent of dimes instead of the 1 ¥ that we had assumed.  Due to the rain, Xiaolan decided to take us to the Shaanxi History Museum.

I must confess that I am a lover of fine museums, and the Shaanxi History Museum now ranks high on my list of favorite museums, along with the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (  Likely won’t ever visit both in the same day.

Once again, we were fortunate to have been provided with an English speaking tour guide.  Her English comprehension was quite good, which allowed for question and answer sessions as well.  Often the English production is much better than comprehension.

The tiled roof of the museum and surrounding buildings is made in the classic fish shape.  Why a fish?  Often buildings’ wooden construction made them susceptible to fire, therefore the inclusion of a water motif,
(shuǐ), kept the building safe.  Perhaps that is why feng shui is so important.

Oracle bones

Early writing
Our entrance into the museum led us back thousands of years to the earliest writing in China, inscribed on oracle bones.  Soothsayers inscribed futures, perhaps like modern investment magazines, into these bones and left on record the earliest form of Chinese.  Writings were also preserved on pots and large stones.

Shaanxi province, as indicated by our guide, bears some resemblance to the archer that we had purchased the day before.  Again, I was reminded that the archer was “very lucky,” although I wondered whether his luck hinged more on being buried for two thousand years or on being discovered.

Chang'an in its glory days

This is the cradle of Chinese civilization.  The hills surrounding us have watched humans develop from simple village life to mighty cities.  Among the greatest of these cities was Chang’an, the capital of over a half a dozen dynasties, which grew to house a million people in the Tang dynasty era.  This area is also rich in gold and other resources.

Zhang Qian

Earlier, during the Han dynasty, a man named Zhang Qian made long journeys to open trade routes, which later became known as the Silk Road.  Due to the lively trade, the Silk Road eventually brought numerous cultures and customs, as well as foreigners, into Shaanxi.  As evidenced by our presence, this cultural exchange has not ended.  It is, also, due to the Silk Road that Buddhism entered China.

This video shows the Silk Road route, ending at its terminus, now the city of Xi'an.

The Silk Road, we were told by our guide, was long and arduous, a far cry from the romantic image that I had conjured from combination of the word ‘silk’ and Yo-yo Ma’s cello playing (  It was, indeed, on these long journeys that merchants broke out their musical instruments to pass the time.

As before, our tour ended sooner than we would have liked.  It is difficult to cram thousands of years of Chinese history in a half a day.

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