Stages of History | Tiananmen Square

Museum of History and the Revolution

Since its completion in the late 1950s, the Museum of History and the Revolution has more often than not "been under repairs" or "closed to the public." This is because the shifting sands of Party policy and the constant rewriting of both modern and premodern Chinese history that resulted forced museum curators to face the common dilemma of socialism: "The future (i.e., the ultimate realization of Communism) is immutable; it's only the past that keeps changing."

More recently the museum has made efforts to use its collection to reflect a less erratic view of the past, and foreign experts have also been consulted. Now strapped by funding cuts, however, there are considerable difficulties in displaying the wealth of artifacts they've amassed in a building that is something of a Stalinoid relic. In recent years it been used as an exhibition hall for everything from avant-garde and official art work to contemporary fashion shows.

Things always turn into their own opposite. The higher you climb the harder you'll fall. I'm prepared to be dashed to pieces in the fall. It's no big deal. Nothing is ever created or destroyed, only broken up.

-- Mao Zedong, from a letter to Jiang Qing written in July 1966

See the essay by Geremie R. Barmé, looking at post-Mao "History for the Masses." In "Human Rights in China," Simon Leys describes the "predicament of the wretched curators of the History Museums... . As one hapless guide put it to a foreign visitor who was pressing him with tricky questions: 'Excuse me, sir, but at this stage it is difficult to answer; the leadership has not yet had the time to decide what history was.'"


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