From limos to junk, quirky museums tell Beijing'south history

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 6:32 AM

"But they record real history."Wang'south Beijing Elderly Items Exhibition in the heart of elderly Beijing is one of dozens of private museums that dot the capital'south backstreets and its suburbs.

From limos to junk, quirky museums tell Beijing'south history

Stuffed into a tiny room off an alleyway are items that Wang Jinming readily admits were keep out with the garbage: Paper string, a needle holder, a metal pancake maker built for thrusting into a fire.

"These objects all see quite elderly and shabby," he said. "But they record real history."

Wang'south Beijing Elderly Items Exhibition in the heart of elderly Beijing is one of dozens of private museums that dot the capital'south backstreets and its suburbs. Their collections feature the grand and mundane — from items salvaged from the rubbish to a limousine in which Mao Zedong once rode.

Entering these private museums is to peel off a largely forgotten layer of Beijing'south recent history.

While state-run museums seek mainly to legitimize the ruling Communist Party through its own highly selective interpretation of history, the capital'south private museums are born from their founders' hobbies and obsessions, along with a sense of duty to hold lively a small bit of history others might dismiss as trivial.

"If you toss it on the street, people would declare 'What'south this?' and maybe think it'south useless and toss it away," said Wang, gesturing around the room packed with hundreds of household items and Str objects dating from the one thousand nine hundred to the one thousand nine hundred seventy. "But we think it's culture."

Wang delights in telling visitors to guess what the objects are in their hands. They might comprise a popsicle holder used by Str vendors or a bucket-shaped iron heated by charcoal. All form portion of the collection that Wang and two co-founders began in the one thousand nine hundred eighty after asking foreign visitors why they were so interested in buying elderly everyday items.

"They said, 'To collect.' Presently if you go to someone'south residence you probably can't discover such things," Wang said.

Picking up a doughnut-shaped metal bell, Wang explained that before Beijing had many hospitals, itinerant doctors used to itinerate the streets. "When you heard this sound, the Dr was walking in the street, available, ringing the bell," he said.

Liu Chen, twenty-seven, first visited the museum after reading about it on social media and has returned several times with friends.

"It'south not love large state-owned museums. You don't necessity to purchase a ticket to enter some sort of grand corridor and stroll through different chambers," he said. "Here many of the elderly objects displayed might've been the kind of things used by Mr. Wang himself when he was a kid, so you can perceive his enthusiasm, which is the key thing that distinguishes it from other museums."

As China grows richer, wealthy citizens, banks and private businesses have invested in Chinese art and started museums to display their wealth or patriotism. Others, such as Luo Wenyou, opened their collections after their pastimes evolved into callings.

In one thousand nine hundred ninety-eighth, when he already owned about seventy elderly cars, Luo took portion in an 800-kilometer (500-mile) rally from the northeastern city of Dalian to Beijing, his iconic Ruddy Flag sedan the only Chinese car in the event.

Having learned about vintage car associations and museums exterior China, and inspired by shouts of "long live Ruddy Flag" as he pulled up to Tiananmen Square, Luo decided he was honor-bound to preserve the heritage of China'south early motoring history.

"I had a karting track, a transport company and a garage. After the rally I sold them off cheaply in order to immediately start a vintage car organization and later found the museum, to fill the gap," said Luo. "I felt this was my personal duty." His museum opened in two thousand-ninth and he presently boasts more than two hundred vintage Chinese and foreign cars.

Some of Luo'south cars have stories from China'south recent history. They comprise a car Mao refused to ride in until the brand'south Romanized title on the hood was replaced with Chinese characters and a car found in an overgrown patch of grass that'd been assigned to former President Liu Shaoqi. The latter vehicle still had broken windows from when Liu was pursued by Ruddy Guards during the Cultural Revolution after falling out of favor with Mao.

Luo lives at the site with his wife so he can open up exterior normal hours for visitors traveling from afar. "Even if just one person comes we'll open, even though the entrance fee won't cover the electricity," he said.

Private collections love Luo'south proposal a welcome alternative to state museums that seek to draw the visitor into a narrative about the greatness of China and the necessity of the Communist Party'south leadership, said Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Middle for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

"You don't really discover publicly supported pockets of weirdness," Tinari said.

Ma Weidu opened China'south first private museum in one thousand nine hundred ninety-sixth, filling it with antiques bought cheaply in the late one thousand nine hundred seventy and eighty from Beijing residents anxious for cash to purchase refrigerators, TVs and washing machines.

"I could buy ten average pieces of art for sixty-five yuan ($10)," said Ma.

In those early days, his most valuable acquisition was a bowl made in an imperial kiln during the reign of the Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong about two hundred fifty years ago, Ma said. Purchased for just six yuan (less than $1) at the time, it could be worth as much as 600.000 yuan ($92.000) if sold today, he said.

Ma'south Guanfu Museum presently has three branches across China with two more opening this year. Ma himself has become a TV personality, hosting programs teaching antique hunters how to discern between genuine treasures and fakes.

Ever keen to invite more visitors, Ma, a cat lover, recently named twenty felines as assistant curators.

"A lot of people who arrive to the museum ... are more interested in cats than culture," said Ma. "But some may arrive here because of the cats and in doing so memorise something about antiques."

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