The façade of the gigantic structure does not look like a museum.
Rather, it resembles an area where space shuttles or intercontinental ballistic missiles are made. Beijing’s Capital Museum is nothing short of gargantuan; I’ve never witnessed such a grand building before.
At first, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed upon entering the building. The middle third of the museum was completely empty space used for large gatherings and events. Actual galleries were placed on the left and right sections of the building. We were told that the museum was built partly for show to the rest of the world, symbolizing China’s ability to construct such a massive structure at will. As we took several escalators to the top of the left side, my disappointment gradually dissipated; although non-functional, it was unique seeing a vast open area in the center of the museum.
I’m no art enthusiast, yet I appreciated what the galleries had to offer, especially after hearing a lecture on Chinese art conducted by a Peking University professor. The top floor consisted of a miniature pagoda with a small pond, as well as illustrations of different pagoda-top styles during various Chinese dynasties. Other floors consisted of scroll paintings, jade sculptures, calligraphy, and plate sets. Similar to museums I’ve visited in the United States, I imagined myself living in those eras: inheriting the culture, using the utensils, and abiding by the rules and norms.
The right side of the museum contained more galleries, including an imitation of a Peking Opera House. Even with fluency in Mandarin Chinese, I wasn’t able to understand what the actors were saying – the cultural differences and accent were too great. Even then, seeing the heart of ancient Beijing’s culture was valuable in itself.
As a first generation Asian American, my ancestors were from Taiwan and theirs from China. I haven’t had many opportunities in the past to learn about Chinese culture, for Western countries tend to focus on European history in school. Therefore, being able to visit Capital Museum and viewing Chinese history, art, and culture was infinitely rewarding.