Rural museums burgeoning across China

By Huang Jingwei, Zou Yating

Rural museums are sprouting in the vast countryside of China due to a “cultural museum fever” that swept the country in recent years.

Donghong village in Jianghai District, Jiangmen city, south China’s Guangdong province has a long history and is home to over 600 residential buildings that were built more than 100 years ago.

The 2.2-square-kilometer village has eight rural museums, which collect old pieces of stuff to showcase the local farming culture and traditional folk customs, such as rice pounders, fishing boats, spinning wheels, and kerosene lamps. These museums have turned such old pieces of stuff into wealth and are a witness to the village’s history and traditions.

To the east of the east section of the Chaoshan mountain scenic area in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang province, there are three Hui Style architectures built in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). They belong to a museum that collects over 6,000 traditional pastry molds. The museum was listed by authorities as one of the first rural museums in the province.

Apart from common wooden pastry molds, it also collects those made of porcelain, as well as stone ones manufactured in the Southern Tang Dynasty (937-975).

The exhibits explain the close relationship between pastry molds and local customs, the development of pastry molds, and pastry mold cultures in different regions.

An inheritor of a provincial-level cultural heritage operates a loom at a museum of She ethnic culture in Jingning She autonomous county, Lishui city, east China’s Zhejiang province, May 2022. (Photo by Li Suren/People’s Daily Online)

On the second floor of the museum, there are two rooms where visitors can make traditional Chinese cakes. The museum hosts pastry-making activities on every important traditional Chinese festival, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Chongyang Festival, or the Seniors’ Day.

Besides, the museum has also set up a sub-venue at a local primary school that offers relevant courses for students, presenting local customs and the charm of the pastry mold culture.

Citing the Chinese saying that “The trait of folks is determined by the local environment,” An Laishun, vice president of the International Council of Museums and professor at Shanghai University, noted that rural museums are different from the archaeological and art museums in cities, as they focus on agriculture, rural areas, and farmers, and thus help enhance farmers’ recognition for local culture and create a more harmonious atmosphere in the countryside.

He said rural museums are a bond linking rural residents, as well as a platform driving the development of relevant sectors. The construction of such museums and relevant activities can make rural tourism more attractive, spur local economic development, and increase farmers’ income, thus boosting rural vitalization, An added.

Zhejiang province issued China’s first guidance document on the construction of rural museums in April this year, which set regulations on rural museums from multiple perspectives. According to the document, Zhejiang province will have 1,000 rural museums by 2025.

The photo shows a farming culture museum in Changxing county, Huzhou city, east China’s Zhejiang province. (Photo by Tan Yunfeng/People’s Daily Online)

Experts said the document pointed out some problems bothering the development of rural museums, such as museums being homogeneous and lacking correlation with local cultures.

The document stressed that rural museums should have a basic display method and clear themes, and exhibitions should be diverse and carry local features.

An believes that in order to achieve long-term and sound development, rural museums must draw social participation and integrate with other local cultural resources.

Hou Xiaolei, a professor at the School of Architecture, Central Academy of Fine Arts, noted that farmers must take the initiative to vitalize rural ecology, economy, and social development.

“A multi-party mechanism should be established for the operation of rural museums, covering government funding, social donations, self-raised funds by museums, and special funds. This mechanism will create jobs for farmers and promote livelihood development,” Hou said.

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