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China is a vast and sprawling land home to countless groups each with its own culture and traditions. But for all its diversity, certain threads run through China's long history - dragons, jade, silk, porcelain, to name a few. To examine the facets of China, we'll look at 3 of its repositories of ancient tradition - Shanghai Museum, Beijing Jade Museum and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.
Shanghai Museum is home to a fabulous collection of ancient Chinese art in its 11 galleries and 3 exhibition halls. The permanent galleries showcase artifacts representative of the major sections of Chinese art, namely, ancient bronze, ancient ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, ancient sculpture, ancient jade, coins, ming and qing furniture, seals, and minority nationalities.
A look through Shanghai Museum allows you to see the many innovations of the Chinese. For example, China was one of the first countries to use money as a medium of exchange. The Gallery of Chinese Coins contains almost 7000 exhibits of early coins.
China's celebrated ceramics on display at the Shanghai Museum include tri-colored pieces from the Tan Dynasty and blue, white and black glazed and pointed porcelain from the Song, Jin and Liao dynasties. A visit here is a must for any connoisseur of Chinese culture.
Other quintessentially Chinese treasures you can see at Shanghai Museum include Chinese seals. The latter are stamps containing Chinese characters that were imprinted on documents, contracts, and works of art to prove identity and authenticity. The oldest ones date back 3000 years.
And now to our second museum, the Jade Museum in Beijing's forbidden city, once the Chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Since 1924, it's housed the Palace Museum which houses an extensive collection mainly from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Jade has been central to Chinese culture for millennia. In ancient China it was referred to as "the essence of heaven and earth" and "the royal gem". Its value surpasses event that of gold and for the Chinese it symbolises nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality.
The jade collection at the Beijing Jade Museum is a wonderful place to admire items made from this most Chinese of materials. The display comprises around 30000 pieces, with the earliest dating from the Neolithic period.
Hong Kong is a very special part of China as from 1841 to 1997 it was administered by another country, Britain. During these 156 years of colonial rule, Hong Kong developed from a fishing village to the economic and financial powerhouse of Asia. Today's Hong Kong still has a frantic boomtown feel but also offers oases of calm in the form of parks, temples an islands. To explore the past of this special place, visit the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in the Sha Tin disctict.
Housed in a 3-storey purpose-built structure that has the form of a Chinese ancestral hall, Hong Kong Heritage Museum features 6 six permanent exhibition galleries - New Territories Heritage Hall (with models of traditional shops and a Hakka fishing village), Children's Discovery Gallery, Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall, T.T.Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art, displaying artifacts from the former Tsui Museum of Art, and the Chao Shao-an Gallery. There are also six thematic galleries for temporary exhibitions.
It's easy to get overwhelmed in China and get the feeling you leave knowing less than when you arrived. But visit these great museums in China and you'll find this great country is not so inscrutable after all. Before travelling to China, make sure that the hotel reservations are in place. Hotels in Beijing and hotels in Hong Kong can easily be booked in advance through the Internet, and then you will be able to enjoy China at the best.
About the Author
Richard has over 20 years experience in the travel industry and writes for Cheaper than Hotels. Cheaper Than Hotels offers cheap hotels in China.
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