August 05, 2004
Affirmative Action-style Museum Quality
Today I once again set off on my own. I was to go to the Ethnic Minority Museum (民族博物館), and tickets are rather pricey. But before I take you on a virtual tour of my trip through the museum, a little background is required.
China is an enormous country, consisting of 23 provinces (states), 5 autonomous regions (more states), and 4 municipalities (real big cities). In this vast land there are approximately 1.3 billion Chinese people. But just as in the USA, being Chinese does not necessarily mean you are of a certain ethnic group. In China, the government officially recognizes 56 different ethnic tribes. Of these, the Han are the largest, and are probably what you think of when you consider someone "Chinese". But with 55 other minority groups, why should that be? Well the Hans make up about 1.1 billion of those 1.3 billion people-so they're pretty entrenched.
But despite their small presence population-wise, China still tries to keep their cultures and traditions alive, and this Minority Museum (despite its commercialism and artificiality) tries to help with that.
The park/museum/adventure-land was quite large (as it should be to hold the cultures of 56 different peoples). I took pretty many pictures and tried to see everything, but I'm sure I missed things. Also, some things were still being constructed sadly. It seems their goal (and everything else in Beijing's goal) is 2008 Olympic tourist gold-so to speak.
My mini-tour of China started in Tibet. The Tibetans are of course a very large minority, and had a sizable area given to them here. I was also lucky enough to see the performers doing a little song and dance. Very nice.
Then followed several minority groups which were a bit lackluster (hey, they can't all be super-cool). Here are some highlights, including a somewhat out of place Han building-the Han exhibit was nowhere near here (more on the Hans later)-with the roof made of seaweed. Interesting.
Some very cool structures the park had were a bridge and a tower. I think they're quite majestic.
Another minority that stands out a bit is the Miao. They are one of the larger tribes and have a very open, friendly culture (apparently). In addition to the cut of their jib, I liked their architecture and what I read of their traditions.
Sadly, not all things in the Minority Park were smiles and happiness. What follows is an image that haunted my nightmares for days.
(giant vegetables...I don't like vegetables...so these scare me...well I laughed). Anyway.
I also found the Dong tribe interesting, mainly I must admit, because they "sacrifice to the God of Ox", where Ox is part of my Chinese name. Coolness.
Some more various pics:
Another tribe I quite liked was the Bai. They are also fairly populous, and strangely their name means white. Their architecture and culture I liked a lot also, despite its similarity to the standard Han types. Who am I kidding, probably because of that similarity.
And some more various tribes, including a picture of what I believe is a sedan chair for a bride-to-be. It had no explanation and seemed very out of place.
Now we're getting towards the wild west of China. Mainly that is Xinjiang province and the Hui and Uygher tribes. These are Muslim groups, and have more differences from the Hans. Very Middle Easterny.
This was the point where (says the map) I should encounter the Hans. Unfortunately, I found no such thing but instead, a bunch of construction. Not cool. I guess the Hans don't really need representation as a "minority" though. In all there about 8 missing tribes still under construction I'd say.
Well, after that left the Naxi-who are (after the Han) my favorite group. They have two main things going for them. One is their main city, Lijiang, which has water running through the whole thing. I saw a documentary on it once and it looks really cool. They had a mini-recreation of Lijiang here that had similar (but much smaller) waterways. The second and cooler feature of the Naxi is their language. They have the only pictographic language still alive today!! Wow. Luckily this exhibit also had plenty of examples of their pictographs, which I liberally photographed.
Well that's really about it. Here's a few more cool pics to finish it off.