When you are in a foreign country and get a chance to visit a museum that gets very few overseas visitors you obviously take it. This is what I did with the Baoji Bronzeware Museum anyway.
Let me set the scene a little. Baoji is a city in China. Approximately the size of Manchester, by Chinese city standards it’s pretty small. It sits a 2 hour train journey West of Xian, if you get the fast train. Xian shines brightly on the tourist trail, home of the infamous terracotta warriors that patiently guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of a unified China. Baoji definitely sits in Xian’s shadow, but it is where I spent 10 months teaching English to 3 – 8 year olds and I had returned to attend a tradition Chinese wedding. So I obviously made the most of the visit and popped to the local museum.
When I say local museum and considering how I’ve described this smallish town, I’m sure you might imagine a fairly small space, possibly run by enthusiastic volunteers with a few key artefacts displayed and limited English interpretation. It’s nothing like that. Baoji Bronze Museum looks like a mixture between an evil villain’s magnificent lair and a giant shrine to a rolo. It’s quite an opposing landmark set in a scenic cultural park.
It also has quite an outstanding collection of ancient Chinese bronze wares, dating from the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BCE). Baoji is not a household name for us, but it is by no means a modern city or unimportant in history. Baoji has links to Emperor Yan Di, a legendary ancient Chinese Emperor in pre-dynastic times. The bronze wares found locally show that the combination of the river, agricultural lands and local bronze mines meant that during the Zhou period Baoji was at the forefront of development.
Surprisingly inside the vast space of the museum there are only three galleries, there is plenty of spare space. These galleries are really quite good, not only do they present pretty outstanding displays of ancient Chinese bronzeware, surprisingly for a place with a fairly low tourist footfall there are quite a number of English translations.
When I say English, it’s a bit more Chinglish (a wonderful mixture of Chinese and English). This means that the interpretation reads slightly more dramatically than anything I’m used to in England; it presents an incredibly self-important view and often includes the use of brackets that which don’t usually add any more information but will present some obvious or unnecessary details. You’re brain gets used to Chinglish fairly quickly, filtering out the useful information from the dramatic presentation; it’s quite an interesting interpretation style.
As we were leaving one of the museum workers came running after us, slightly out of breath. She had been sent by the front desk to find us having been told that there were some ‘foreign friends’ visiting the museum and wondered if we wanted a free tour. This is the wonderful thing about visiting a place where you’re treated a bit like a mythical animal, they really wanted to go out of their way to look after us and introduce us the their wonderful collection. So if you by any chance find yourself at a loose end in Baoji, ask if there is anyone that speaks English and can show you around when you pop to the local museum.
When we were visiting it was free, but on previous visits it has been 10 yuan (about £1). Although I didn’t need my passport to visit this time I have been requested to present it in the past, so be aware that having your passport requested isn’t uncommon when visiting museums in China.