From Landlord Manor to Red Memorabilia
Denise Y. Ho, Jie Li, From Landlord Manor to Red Memorabilia. Reincarnations of a Chinese Museum Town, Modern China, July 2015.
What was a revolutionary museum in the Mao era, and what are the lives and afterlives of its artifacts? This article traces the exhibitionary culture of the town of Anren, home to both the Mao-era sculptural icon the Rent Collection Courtyard and the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, China’s largest private museum and collection of Maoist memorabilia. Examining the production and reception of exhibits from the 1950s to the present, we argue that—far from mausoleums that relegate objects safely to history—museums in China have been dynamic and vital public spaces that have defined and redefined the past for the present, serving as both a medium and a product of revolutionary culture. Over the last six decades, museums have paraded the revolution’s spoils, served as a schoolroom for class education, replaced traditional temples as new ritual sites, staged theatrical performances, held court over historical cases, and, finally, commodified their collections into tourist memorabilia.