Report from the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, Sichuan (Die Zeit)

Last year I made two trips to the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in Sichuan, the PRC’s only private collection of museums and facilities which are completely ground-breaking in their somewhat individualistic take on curating and historical interpretation in general.  The museum cluster, owned and very much directed by the entrepreneur Fan Jianchuan, includes a museum of the Cultural Revolution, among other things.

An excellent overview of the museum’s themes (with video) is available here; my colleague in Tokyo, Jeff Kingston, wrote this piece for Japan Times after visiting me to talk Chinese nationalism in Chengdu last winter.

But here is the most recent reporting from the museum site, from the pen [aus der Feder] of Angela Kockritz, one of Germany’s best reporters in the PRC.

et la pièce de résistance


  1. Whoever looks at things with his own eyes will find his own narrative. (Aber wer mit eigenen Augen auf die Geschichte schaut, findet seine eigene Erzählung.)
    Sure.But I see some wishful thinking in Mrs Köckritz’ article. The museum is censored by the authorities just as any other, and if a collective of modest-prosperity peasants wanted to build their own museum, it would never open its doors.

    In that way, Fan Jianchuan’s museums reflect the CCP’s new four-represents ideology – capitalists are more important comrades than peasants. A millionaire tells the story of the (past) countryside. And while the party may not be interested in investing in a cultural-revolution museum, warnings of too much zeal appear everywhere – and are frequently directed against democracy activists, too. As CCP cadres were victims of the cultural revolution, just as dangwai people were, the cultural revolution is no taboo. It’s only an uneasy topic in that everything ugly is an uneasy topic.

    As long as a narrative is full of fear, it’s suitable in China. The Orwell quote about history reflects the ambitions of a totalitarian state, but not its realities. Not even Germany’s Third Reich or Stalin’s Soviet Union ever made their ambitions completely real – let alone Mussolini’s fascist state. (I’m not sure about North Korea though.)

    Therefore, Köckritz’ portrayal of Fan’s museums as sort of small game-changers is going too far in my view. Have you seen something there that would prove her point, Adam?

    1. JR, thanks for the view on this! (And sorry for my obvious mistakes, “eigenen” rather than “einen Augen” [which would be ‘eine Auge’ anyway, nicht wahr?], etc.)

      Right on peasant museum — I think what makes Fan unique is simply that he has a ton of money and is patriotic and is an exemplar in so many ways of a patriotic capitalist and CCP member, all of which he is. It’s much safer for him to try a Cultural Revolution museum than to open a Cultural Revolution exhibition in Beijing, for instance. Of course this begs the point of when, if ever, it is safe or somehow advantageous for the CCP to do that. About one front-page article a year about the CR in the Nanfang Zhoumou seems more than enough of that for Zhongnanhai.

      This idea of Party members as victims of the anti-Rightist campaigns prior to the better-known explosions of 1966 is something that comes up all over the place, even in that strange echo chamber of China’s view of its 20th century history with Tibet.

      And thanks also for the link. (I would mention Ai Weiwei here, but that could get us all in trouble fast!!)

  2. I’ve never been taken with Ai Wei Wei’s artistic output, but the other evening I caught a series of Ai’s photos taken when he lived in New York and they knocked me out. Any links to these exhibits would be most appreciated.
    And JRs distinction between ambitions and reality is well taken, especially when thinking about the architecture of urban and internet surveillance in China.

    1. Great to see you again, KT! That photo exhibit is both well-timed and seems to be critically well-recevied as well, so you are in good company there. I have a couple of Ai-related projects and might drop a bunch of said links sometime in the near future; thanks again for the comment.

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