“The Road to Rejuvenation” – National Museum of China

“The Road to Rejuvenation” is an exposition at the National Museum of China, narrowed to the most recent history of this millenarian country. Located in front of the Tiananmen Square, this museum contains several temporary exhibitions with the general public of China as the audience: each fan, painting, or artifact is only accompanied by a plaque in Chinese. Similarly, the titles of the halls are focused on explaining the West to local citizens. For instance, Poland is referred just as ‘Chopin’s country’.

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The narrative of “Road to Rejuvenation” begins after the Opium War, when China had its first traumatic experience with the western nations. Then, it is narrated how the modern Chinese society fought against foreigners as a way to liberate itself. Presenting mainly primary sources, the museum tries to tell this story in an objective ways. For example, there are rudimentary weapons and helmets used against the British, helpful to understand why China  lost the war. Also, there can be found photos and cartoons of the period, historical documents, and direct testimonies. Each piece explains part of the periods and helps to understand how was the life of the Chinese people.

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Another big part of the exhibition resembles the path that China chose to follow during the second half of the 20th century. Starting with the rise of the Communist Party, and a detailed description of Mao’s actions, it is accompanied with other primary sources that give some national pride, such as the drafts of a math Chinese that discovered a revolutionary demonstration, or a fan where another mathematician made some relevant calculations.

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When the exposition presents the history after the 1970s, it is divided in  the political cycles of the leaders. The message is divided in two parts. First, how China is interacting with the world. Hats used by the leader in diplomatic visits, gifts from other leaders (including an eagle given by Gerald Ford), as well as pictures of meetings are all displayed. In second place, there is also evidence on how the modern Chinese state has been built. There is evidence of the construction and the evolution of several policies. For instance, different “social security cards” are presented as part of the history of this policy, as well as some other documents. The end of the exhibition presents the Chinese society as a key player inside the international arena and as a leader in several fields. The most symbolic might be the arrival to the space and the Olympics hosted in Beijing.

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What are the policy lessons from this exhibition? First, that history, and especially the most recent one, matters to understand the rapid changes in a society. Also, to understand the challenges of such a complex society. However, it is true that the discussion about the differences inside China is taken away. In addition, some parts were omitted deliberately and some other voices deserved more space. At least those that helped into the construction of Chinese society and policies besides the Secretary Generals. Ultimately, the most generous portion of a narrative that incorporates an objective vision would need to add the voices of people different to politicians. At least all the Nobel prizewinners, even though some of them have been critical to the current system. – Miguel B.

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