If you didn’t know it was there, you’d be hard pressed to find it. It goes by the name of Dongcheng Feiyi Museum, otherwise known as the District Cultural Heritage Exhibition Hall. It would appear that the people who put it together apparently thought that they had done their job in just assembling the collection. The fact that someone might actually want to look at it seems not to have crossed their minds.
Certainly if you keep your eyes peeled, you might catch a glimpse of these notices placed outside a rather nondescript building, which actually turns out to be the back of Chongwen Theatre …
But it’s only if you go inside and inspect the location board, that mention is made at all of something actually worth seeing…
And sure enough, if you take the lift to the 4th floor, there’s an entrance doorway behind a table and chair. On this occasion, at least, the place appeared totally deserted.
Inside there is an intriguing-looking corridor…
… and when we turned left we could vaguely make out a few glass cabinets in a large room.
We tried pressing all the available light switches… but the room remained in relative darkness. Maybe there were more light switches outside? At which point, a very bored-looking guard who – it seems – had gone off to answer a call of nature, searched inside a fuse box inside a cupboard and, lo and behold, the ‘museum’ filled with light.
This is a collection which initially appears to have no common theme. But what a delight it turns out to be! It’s actually devoted to items that have been made in traditional ways showing off the best of China’s ‘cultural heritage’.
Centre stage is a beautiful model of a Seismograph, 140cm high and featuring eight golden dragons and eight toads, all decorated in the traditional Han style. It was made during the 1990s, using the cloisonné technique.
Invented by Zhang Heng in 132 AD and known as ‘Houfeng Didong Yi’ (Instrument for inquiring into the wind and the shaking of the earth), the original seismograph never survived. It was an urn-like instrument with a central pendulum. An earth tremor would cause the pendulum to activate a set of levers inside. Then, one of the eight dragons placed in eight directions outside the urn would release a bronze ball held in its mouth. The ball would fall into the mouth of a toad and give off a sound, letting people know when and in which direction an earthquake had occurred. It is said that it was able to detect an earthquake in the year 138 about 600 kilometres away from Luoyang, then China's capital.
At one end of the hall is a work known as the Qingming Shanghe Map, which was actually chosen as a national gift for the UN's Food and Agri Organisation. It was created in 1997 by Cui Jie, and beautiful it undoubtedly is.
And what about these charming objects? The display is meant to show off the production techniques of the Beijing Pigeon Whistle. These whistles were made of either bamboo or pottery and came in a variety of shapes and sizes with a varied number of whistles and one or two barreled intercepts. Fascinating!
Perhaps less politically correct than pigeon whistles is a small display of carved ivory.
Here, for instance, is a rendition of Da Tang’s Imperial Concubine, made in 2013 by Chai Ciji at the Beijing Ivory Carving Factory (complete with phone number in case you should want them to carve some ivory for you?). Weighing in at 14kg and 98cm high, it apparently depicts Tang Ming Huang who is drunk, dreaming of Yang Guifei gazing at him.
No doubt to keep the ivory from drying out, the whole sculpture is carefully wrapped in cling-film behind the glass screen that encases it.
I’m not sure if this next object represents the best of China’s intangible heritage, but it is certainly a good way of collecting water from a dripping ceiling!
Pottery is much in evidence, and once more here's some more cloisonné made in 2001 by the Beijing Enamel Factory Company whose works are "concise, fluent and modern". We are told “there is a rich variety, showing a dream like water ripples, leisurely wild duck in the lotus intimate walk”. Apparently the artist's work won the Gold Award of the Second China Master of Arts & Crafts Exhibition.
And close by is another kind of pottery – a traditional Chinese goldfish bowl. “The Chinese,” we are told, “regard the goldfish as a good thing; and every December and January is the best season to sell small goldfish. Many Beijingers love it.”
There’s a small section on Peking Opera, complete with costumes and face masks…
…while just in front of the cabinet is something that followers of the Beijing 2008 Olympics might well remember: In the opening ceremony was a performance of 'beating the Fou'. The Fou, in case you don’t know, is a traditional musical instrument in China, found mainly in the north of the country.
Round the next corner, here’s an idea of what to do if you have a pet that moults hair everywhere… use it to create a fur-picture!
And this kitten depicted on a fan is so cute!
I doubt dog fur was used in the making of this hat, though… It's a Sha Hu women's hat, made in 2007, and beside it are the implements used in its manufacture.
One of my favourite pieces here is a carved-porcelain ‘Dragon Bottle’ by Mao Zifang, made in 2012. In order to achieve a touchy-feely effect, the work is a combination of painting and engraving, and a diamond or alloy knife is used instead of a pen to mark the glazed surface of the porcelain. It almost makes you want to reach inside the glass cabinet just for a feel.
This next model shows off the production techniques of a Wool Monkey model. Created in 2005 by Xiao Jing, it's meant to represent a marriage scene at the home of a large family in Beijing during the 1930s.
These peacocks are truly splendid, and are made of natural silk. It is said that the tail 'feathers' of the male are made up of some 3,000 individual shards of silk. They were made in 2007 by Cai Zhiwei.
And if it’s egg painting that floats your boat, here is a selection of eggs from ostriches, ducks, geese and chickens. Clever stuff!
Finally, there’s a paper-cut scroll depicting the Three Kingdoms and Five Tigers. Created in 2005, the artist Xu Yang apparently focused on each character's facial expression. Take it from me… he did a good job!
There are, of course, other exhibits on display apart from what I have shown above. If you find yourself in the area around Chongwenmen I would strongly suggest you put aside half an hour to visit this amazing little gem… if you can find it, that is; and as long as there is someone there to find the main fuse for you!
From Ciqikou station on Lines 5/7 exit A and walk due north… or from Chongwenmen station on Lines 2/5 exit H and walk south … along Chongwenmen Outer Street. Then turn west along Dongchashi Hutong and the museum is about 100 metres on your left.