At China’s New Museum, History Toes Party Line

The New York Times reports on the newly refurbished National Museum of China, centrally located in Tiananmen Square, and the selective that is on display there:

China spent more than a decade and nearly $400 million to remake the National Museum into a leading showcase of history and culture, a monument to its rising power no less grand — it is designed to be the world’s largest museum under one roof — and more enduring than the Olympic Games it hosted in 2008.

But one tradition has remained firmly in place: China will not confront its own history. The museum is less the product of extensive research, discovery or creativity than the most prominent symbol of the Communist Party’s efforts to control the narrative of history and suppress alternative points of view, even those that exist within the governing elite. It is also an example of how China finds it difficult to create cultural institutions that prove equal to its economic achievements.

Interviews with participants describe a tortured reconstruction that dragged on years longer than envisioned, with plans constantly revised to accommodate political twists and turns, many decided personally by top party leaders.

Officials rejected proposals for a permanent historical exhibition that would have discussed the disasters of early Communist rule — especially the Great Leap Forward, a political campaign and resulting famine that killed more than 20 million. Some organizers also wanted a candid appraisal of the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long attack on traditional culture and learning, but that effort was squashed.

Instead, the authorities decided that the exhibition on contemporary China should focus, as did the museum before its extensive makeover, on the party’s triumphs.

See the Wikipedia entry for the museum.

April 3, 2011 11:05 PM
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