Over the past few weeks, a lot has happened. I’ve had lunch with the dean of my department, been to a folk performance showcase, meandered through an old temple converted to a market, ventured to a theme park with one of my classes, visited a couple of museums and had some fun lessons.
Folk Art Gala
One of the foreign teachers here at AHU has connections to many people after being here for six years. She tries to keep us in the loop when something is going on and sometimes invites us to go to events if she can get tickets or an invitation. One of her friends, who is an anchor on the local radio station and speaks very good English, got us tickets to a folk art gala.
The event featured folk artists from all over the province. There were some in the lobby of the theater showing their artwork and demonstrating how they create it and there were some who performed. We checked out the uniquely Anhui crafts and watched in amazement as one artist turned the simple art of cutting paper into creation of a masterpiece of fine art and the man who creates the traditional-style Chinese painting but with a soldering iron and not ink and paint.
I was even interviewed by a local news crew about what I saw. Then we went into the theater to be treated to an evening of folk music, dancing and acrobatics. Some was fantastic and some was not. The finale performance was the most spectacular being a form of Chinese opera with full make up and costumes that are so dramatic and spectacular.
Anhui Provincial Museum
In the Lonely Planet guide for China, my “little” city of Hefei is considered a vortex of boringness with only a few places mentioned. One of those places is the original Anhui Provincial Museum in downtown. We decided to make a visit and found an old, Mao-era building that was the first provincial museum of its kind. The Great Helmsmen even visited in his day. It doesn’t seem to have been updated or kept up much since then.
There were only a few exhibits. One of the exhibits finally explained why this museum seemed so sparse and uncared for. Even though we couldn’t understand the words, we understood the pictures. It showed us many images of the Chairman’s visit and other influentials’ visits to the museum and then plans for a new museum that oddly enough looks a lot like the new Guangdong Museum I visited in Guangzhou. Then I realized I had seen this building when riding the bus or in a cab. We decided to visit that museum soon.
New Anhui Museum
We did make that trip the following Saturday and found a beautiful modern building at the center of a large city block that was being turned into the museum district. There is the Anhui Museum that tells the story of the province through art and history and a building under construction but almost completed that will either be the new art museum or paleontology museum or both.
We visited the Anhui Museum and soon learned that Anhui has, as the Chinese like to say, long history. Although the building style is similar to the Guangdong Museum, this museum was much more beautiful and I think better designed. I can’t say the same for the exhibits or what they chose to tell us.
The museum does use all of the most state-of-the-art and effective curatorial tricks I’ve seen and heard of but they are not necessarily effective. As opposed to the Guangdong Museum that tells you a rich and thorough yet concise history of the province, the Anhui Museum goes into so much depth that a visitor can easily go into information overload and get bored. There are four floors of exhibits and we only made it through some and basically scanned the last few we visited.
If you want to visit, I recommend multiple trips to break it up and keep it fresh. The first two floors are the history of the province told in different ages beginning with prehistoric times. The third floor finally changes things up a bit with a set of exhibitions of the unique Hui architecture found in the province. We didn’t make it to the fourth floor, but I’ll go back sometime to see what it has to offer.
On display are many artifacts including beautifully crafted bronze and stone pieces, jade, wood carvings and much more. They range from everyday items to ceremonial items and weapons. I think the exhibits we missed have a collection of porcelain and calligraphy.
I’m kind of excited though for the paleontology museum to be completed to see the natural history of Anhui including the dinosaurs.