Home » hudson lockett's travel blog, international, society & culture

Museum tour: Yes, we have no anti-Americanism

By 13 June 2009 No Comment
Photo by Hudson Lockett

Contradictions among the people: Beijing's Military Museum features alternate historical realities |Photo by Hudson Lockett

Before I left for Beijing a friend recommended that I visit Beijing’s Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution. He said it housed some of the most anti-American rhetoric in China, so I thought I’d have a look. While what I saw fell far short of my expectations for anti-American propaganda, I found it an eye-opening experience nonetheless.

For starters, there’s the sheer grand scale of the place – and I’m not just talking about its name. A massive spire capped with the symbol of the People’s Liberation Army jutted from the top of the building, which loomed over visitors entering from the front plaza. A missile and gunboat flanked the entrance, while inside the main hall a huge silver missile pointed skyward, drawing my gaze up from the marble floor and white walls lined with PLA tanks.

Once past the massive missile and giant red flags (one can never have enough giant red flags) I found the hall of statues of the people’s heroes – heroes defined in this case almost exclusively in the form of  legendary Chinese leader Mao Zedong. The Chairman dominated the gallery with a style for every occasion. Here he was pensively reading a book in a gently-carved dress shirt, there he was half-chiseled from a massive hunk of rock and cloaked in a commander’s jacket. Aside from the odd ancient warrior practically everyone else was relegated to bust status or lower.

While heroically large statues of Mao proved plentiful, overt America bashing was in short supply. Amid the countless display cases of guns, swords, guns, spears and guns I found little to boil or even simmer the blood of any visiting American patriots.

The hall supposed to house the fabled exhibit was likely the one I unintentionally ignored: The Hall of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, closed off to the public during my visit. Through its golden-framed doors, I could see the entire room thoroughly stripped of exhibits. Searching elsewhere for evidence of the Korean War yielded a small case with a captured American infantry flag and a few black and white photos hanging meekly nearby.

Those exhibits that had not been whisked away to a presumably classified location served up mixed messages for any foreigner willing to slog through sloppy syntax or plow headfirst through untranslated Chinese. One striking example of the latter was a display of Chinese military uniforms draped on a number of dilapidated and distinctly Caucasian mannequins.

The Hall of Modern Wars, covering China’s internal and external conflicts from 1840 to 1949, housed some particularly noteworthy translations, including: “From the beginning of 1860s, some members in the Qing ruling clique began to introduce the western advanced technologies in the name of ‘strengthening China’, establish modern military industry in China, establish the Navy on a fair scale, set up military schools and send students to foreign countries for study. These efforts, however, could not change China’s destiny of being attacked for its backwardness.”

The most eye-catching display in the exhibit was the massive (go figure) oil painting, “Smashing Victory at Langfang”. Said victory took place during the Boxer Rebellion, when an eight-nation alliance including America, Britain, Germany and Japan invaded China at the turn of the 19th century following violence against foreigners and Christians by a group called the Yihe tuan – said rebellion’s titular boxers.

The depicted battle showed Chinese soldiers using swords, spears and a single cannon to overthrow gun-wielding American, Japanese and British soldiers advancing on either side of a halted steam engine. The victory, however smashing, didn’t stop the alliance from carving up China, but the message of the painting was clear. A great swathe of locomotive smoke curled out over the battlefield, encroaching on an otherwise blue sky and making clear that Western industrial power was no friend to China.

It also neatly contradicted the earlier plaques’ condemnation of vulnerability caused by the “backwardness of China.” Within 100 feet of one another the two officially-sanctioned displays gave two very different views.

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.