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Museums of Shenyang – the Liaoning Provincial Museum

I wanted to dazzle you with an amazing article about things to do to cool down in the summer heat – on the water, in the water and near the water. But with the weather being what is has been recently, I changed my mind. Who needs to know about water-related fun when there is plenty of H2O beating down on us on a regular basis? So, instead, I will introduce you to one of Shenyang’s museums – the Liaoning Provincial Museum. A perfect place to visit on a rainy Saturday or Sunday, by the way. Just sayin’…

Liaoning Provincial Museum – an Overview

This cultural institution in Shenyang, far from being provincial, gives an overview of Chinese culture and art in general and exhibits about the history and cultural relics of the region in particular, rounded off with various changing exhibitions of interest.

The huge building that houses the Provincial Museum is located deep in Hunan District, not generally a place most foreigners in Shenyang stumble around in, but the trek down south to visit it is well worth it. On three floors, the interested visitor can go on a journey through time and space.

1F – Epitaphs, Porcelain, Jade, and Some Temporary Exhibitions

The first floor after Chinese reckoning (i.e. the ground floor) houses three permanent exhibitions. The first one displays ancient Chinese epitaphs. Here, the word epitaph is used to describe a sort of stele with words engraved on it. These steles were used in much the same way as tombstones in the West. By studying them, researchers – and in turn we – can learn a lot about social history, calligraphy, sculpture, renowned personages and funeral rituals.

The second one of the permanent exhibitions on that floor shows porcelain wares of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. This display has much more on offer than the typical blue and white Ming vases you might expect. Some of the pieces have a truly modern feel!

The third in the trio of permanent exhibitions is dedicated to showing jade artifacts from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Here, you will find jade of many hues – the ubiquitous green, of course, but also white, grey, brown, and a mixture of the above. And the artifacts range from simple pendants to sculptures, paravents and even soup bowls.

The second half of the ground floor is dedicated to whatever temporary exhibitions are on offer at any given time. At the moment, you can, in addition to the permanent exhibitions mentioned, admire several temporary exhibitions there as well.

2F – From Money to Religion, Something for Everyone

The second floor (i.e. the first floor according to most Europeans) is home to six permanent exhibitions. The first one showcases Liao porcelain wares. The Liao were a dynasty who made their home in the North of what is now China from the early 10th to the early 12th century AD and left us beautiful vessels, both glazed and unglazed, that teach us about the culture and customs of that era.

A second exhibition displays various currencies that were used in present-day Liaoning province through the ages. Incidentally, if you like learning about ancient money, you might want to also visit the finance museum located at General Zhang’s mansion. If you’d like me to introduce that in a later article, please let me know in the comments.

The third display on this floor presents the visitor with stunning Buddhist statues. They are made of various materials and show significant stylistic differences. Really worth a visit, even if you are not Buddhist. Looking at them always fills me with such peace, somehow…

Exhibition number four shows royal seals, sort of like the almighty red stamp of the past. If you have been in China for any length of time, you know that no official business is complete without at least one big fat red stamp of approval on your papers. These kinds of chops have a long tradition, and the exhibition let you explore that history in detail.

The fifth exhibit holds bronze mirrors. Chinese bronze mirrors look quite a bit different from mirrors in the West. For one, they mostly did not have a handle, but were completely round, with a sort of bump at the back to hold them up. Worth taking a look for sure!

To bring up the rear, the last exhibition room on that floor lets you learn more about objects connected to Manchu folk customs. As you probably know, the Manchu were the founders of the last of the Chinese dynasties. And they took over China from the Northeast, making Shenyang their first capital city, before moving the palace and all royal business to Beijing. By looking at the objects displayed here, we can appreciate the difference between the Manchu and Han Chinese.

3F – Ancient Liaoning in All Its Glory

The third floor (or the second floor, depending on how you count…) is dedicated to ancient Liaoning and its culture, with a total of 5 permanent exhibition rooms.

The journey through Liaoning’s history starts with the prehistoric era. The artifacts displayed come from several dig sites – Jinniushan near Yingkou, Miaohoushan in Benxi County, Gezidong near Kazuo, and Xiaogushan close to Haicheng. The exhibits teach us about clan settlements and ancient Chinese civilization. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Continuing onwards on the timeline, the next exhibition shows artifacts from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou periods. The objects found are still quite old, as they are dated from 4,000 to about 2,000 BCE. Many of them are made from bronze, which people had learned how to shape by that time.

Next up is an exhibition ranging from the Warring States period to the Sui and Tang dynasties. In those turbulent times, Liaoning slowly became one of the cultural, political and economic centers of China’s Northeast, which is reflected in the rich and elaborate artifacts we can admire here.

The fourth exhibition on this floor is dedicated to the Liao Empire. This was the time when Buddha’s teachings first hit this part of what is now China, so there are some artifacts in the exhibition reflecting this fact.

Fifth and last is an exhibition about the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties and their influence on Liaoning province. This multicultural era is showcased by exhibits displaying influences from other ethnicities.

The lobby area including the information desk, gift shop etc. is quite interesting in its own right. Its walls are hung with huge copper relief sculptures depicting Liaoning history from the first indigenous settlers to the Founding of the ‘New China’.

How to Get There

Have I peaked your interest? If all these explanations are not enough, maybe you will be glad to know that all this splendor may be yours for the low low price of 0RMB. That’s right, a visit to Liaoning Provincial Museum is free of charge.

So, now you HAVE to go there, right? The address of the museum is 智(zhì)慧(huì)三(sān)街(jiē)157号(hào), this is roughly where it is in the overall ‘landscape’ of Shenyang. Getting there by public transport is a bit tricky, but there is a bus that stops fairly close to the museum, 沈(shěn)中(zhōng)大(dà)街(jiē)全(quán)运(yùn)三(sān)路(lù) station on bus number 130.

Tell me what you think – more articles like this one? Or different subjects? Let me know in the comments!

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