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  • Society for the Study of Early China

    ANCIENT CHINA IN NEW CHINAAuthor(s): Doris DohrenwendSource: Early China, Vol. 2 (FALL 1976), pp. 89-94Published by: Society for the Study of Early ChinaStable URL: .Accessed: 06/09/2013 09:14

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  • two major exhibits, ancient bronzes and pottery from ancient to modern times. A collection of Kwang tung regional pottery of all periods was shown us in the Canton historical museum.

    These displays and others which we saw, such as the one in a Suchow silk factory contrasting the horrors of pre-liberation life with the joys of

    present-day working conditions, were put together to form excellent learning centers. Ancient pottery, for example, was exhibited together with models, pictures and maps showing manufacturing techniques and sites, distribution areas and so forth. Bronze tools were not merely museum pieces, but were given functional meaning by being mounted on reconstructed wood handles. Any visitor to a museum would receive a clear impression of the quality of traditional Chinese life and the skills of the Chinese people.

    We, who traveled rapidly from place to place, also obtained a striking view of the regional diver sity of past and present Chinese life. The isola tion of the Canton area until after the end of the Han dynasty showed up well in the poor quality of

    early pottery found in the area and displayed in the regional museum. Such an insight is lost in the typical national collection featuring the best

    products of an age.

    The museums were not without problems, however. Collections were generally inadequately housed and

    displayed. Large numbers of pieces in rooms dis

    tracted one's attention from the quality of each. In Shanghai, recently excavated bronzes were mixed in with older unauthenticated pieces from formerly private collections and with replicas of pieces kept elsewhere. Heat and humidity were usually not controlled. In Peking, we were told that paintings earlier than M1ng would not be shown until the weather moderated. Where controls existed, they were less than perfect. In Changsha, the Han lacquer ware was kept well moisturized in sealed glass cases, but water droplets on the inside of the glass obscured most of the view of the pieces.

    The trip described above which, besides museums, also included visits to a factory, commune, middle school and residential area, was an ideal introduction to China for someone like me who must

    present the entire range of Chinese history to his students and to the community in which he lives. It was obviously not a trip designed for the special ized interests of the historian of early China. I would urge the Early China Society to make every effort to organize a trip for its members to meet their particular needs.

    Perhaps because we were regarded as a group of

    tourists, the museum officials who acted as our guides were administrators rather than scholars. None whom we met had an extensive acquaintance with their collections or even with Chinese history in general. We received running commentaries which summarized the labels in the cases. Deeper questioning elicited no response. There was little, if any, knowledge of

    research literature. One of our Shanghai museum

    guides even was vague about basic Marxism, continual

    ly referring to the feudal landlords of Shang slave


    The only real brush with Chinese scholarship we had came at Peking's National Minorities Institute. Here we met the director of research, Professor Fei Hsiao-t'ung. Fe1 bubbled over with enthusiasm during a brief tour of the facilities. He told us of the enormous library collection, the work of

    developing new scripts and publishing newspapers in

    minority languages and, most thrilling to him of all, the study of small minority groups and their classifi cation as different types of slave or feudal societies. This experience brought home to me, as no amount of

    reading had done, the excitement to be found in

    China's scholarly circles when totally untapped areas of research emerge as a consequence of accept

    ing the Marxist approach to history and society.


    Doris Dohreriwend

    (Royal Ontario Museum)

    The Art and Archaeological Delegation which visited the People's Republic of China 1n November of 1973 was jointly sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States and the Scientific and Technical Association of the PRC. Originally Intended to be chiefly archaeological, the delegation ultimately Included specialists in Chinese painting, a historian and a conservationist as well as those of us more immediately concerned with "underground art" or recent archaeological finds (see List 1).

    Starting at Kuangchou (Canton) we flew to Peking, and five days later to S1an. From S1an we travelled by (excellent) train through the historic Eastern Pass to Loyang. Then to Chengchou, Nanking, Suchou, Shanghai, Hangchou and back to Canton. We parted where,we had met as a group at the start of this

    trip, in Hong Kong.'

    Supplied with lists of places we wanted to visit and specific works of art we hoped to see, the Chinese authorities enabledus to make good use of our time in their country even though they were unable to

    grant all our wishes. On the go seven days a week

    from roughly 8:30 A.M. to 6 P.M.and with many a banquet, film or theatrical performance in the even ing'we saw, I think, all that could be seen in one month at that time of art and archaeology in New China. We were permitted to photograph freely at all Museums and sites visited, the only restriction being photography from the air. As to other practical matters: we could have used, in that winter month, more warm clothing designed for indoor use, more

    ordinary cold remedies (hospital care in China proved excellent and was freely given in more than one case), and more film.


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  • To see material from controlled excavations with provenance data, we visited such important provincial museums as those at Si an, Chengchou and Nanking. Other provincial museums, unfortun

    ately, were closed or inaccessible to us. This was true of the Szechuan and Yunnan institutions which we had not dared hope to visit, but true also of the Hunan Provincial Museum at Changsha which we had requested.

    In the museums we did visit, only a fraction of what must be vast holdings was on view. Storage was all but impenetrable. Artifacts on display were chosen to represent major historical develop ments rather than full runs of visual types or art historical trends. Labels (in Chinese) were clear but brief. In many cases only the site was mentioned. Information as to whether an object came from a closed find or undisturbed burial or from elsewhere about the site was not given. When one asked for detail of this-kind "on the spot" it was not always given, nor was it usually looked up in the museum records. The use of graphics to explain the context, function and meaning of objects on display was, however, rich and Impressive. Reproductions filling major gaps in local collections were often effective and usually labelled.3 An occasional wealth of

    material, as of neolithic jade in Nanking, allowed fuller display and acted as a stimulant.

    Except for objects in the Shanghai and Chengchou Museums and in the Study collections of the archaeo

    logical institutes, it was difficult to see things "in hand" or to study details at close range. In

    Shanghai objects were removed from cases for study and photographing. At Chengchou, thanks to persistent questioning by Virginia Kane about the contents and

    relationship of the various Shang levels and sites in the area, the Honan Provincial Museum staff

    brought forth from storage a large number of pots and sherds believed Neolithic, transitional, middle and late Shang. They also brought out and hung rubbings from stones and tiles with early pictorial designs for study by the painting specialists among us. These were among the notable instances of kind ness to us on the Chinese side,,4

    Due to the presence of Tom Chase, Chief Con servator of the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, we saw several important and famous bronzes and

    paintings in Conservation, the latter being a

    primary concern in the PRC. Through Tom's initiative we also saw testing equipment for radiocarbon analysis in Peking and learned that such testing was done also at Nanking University. Thermoluminescence was less well known or utilized as a possibly useful technique in determining, for example, the relative dates of Neolithic sites whose temporal relationship is uncer tain and disputed. Most of our Chinese hosts seemed interested above all in exchanges of technical infor mation about such matters as conservation and test