I am almost finished compiling my China book. As I neared the end I realized I had entirely forgotten to write about the Women Culture Museum at Shaanxi Normal University. It made a very big impression on me while I was there, but somehow totally disappeared from my head while I was writing the blog. So much for short-term memory.
I think we went on October 28, the only day I have no account of activities in the afternoon. This was another CCS expedition: Eva took us with Mr. Wang driving. I think Andrea, Natasha and I were the only ones to go. Laura may have been working, or she was sick. Shaanxi Normal University, Chang an campus, was a large, new facility about a half hour from the apartment. I don't think the museum was a tourist spot open to the public; a visit requires special arrangements to be made.
The first gallery, titled Her Story, "displays the women's struggles in Abolishment of Binding Feet, Revolutionary War, Anti-Japanese War, Cultural Revolution and so forth in the 20th century. In the part, we have a special exhibit "An Ordinary Woman's Story". The intention of doing so is to praise the life value of ordinary people." I am quoting from the brochure we got at the museum. I found the exhibits about foot binding to be incredible and horrifying; the rest of that gallery not so interesting.
Since my recollection of the museum is now dim, to say the least, I will continue quoting from the brochure. Also the website I linked to above has some good information about each of the exhibits. The second gallery was called "Women's Characters in Hangyung. Around Hangyung County, Hunan Province of China, there is a kind of peculiar character, which records the local dialect. It is only used and imparted among the women, and it is a uniqlue (sic) in character history of the world. We call it "Women's Characters". In the Museum, there is a big collection of relics about Women's Characters such as "Fan scripts", "Handkerchief scripts", and "Wedding Congratulation letters". In addition, exhibited here are the tools used by women when writing everyday life articles, pictures and some written materials by the successors of Women's Characters."
Sometimes Chinese "English" requires almost as much interpretation as translating from Chinese characters. What they are really saying is that a community of women from this county in Hunan created their own written language, which was never shown to men. They used it only for women things. Use of these characters is now dying off; only a few women who know it remain alive. The museum is trying to preserve this heritage.
The third gallery is about sex. "Reproductive culture is long neglected by the main culture. Exhibited here are some symbolic genital worships and art works as well as indigenous child-delivery tools and aborticide."
The fourth gallery displays women's craftwork. "The world of Women Craftwork is abundant and beautiful. In this part, there is a big collection of women craftworks, such as weave goods, knit goods, embroideries and decoupage." Not mentioned in the brochure, but hugely impressive, are the papercuts of Ku Shulan, who called herself the papercut goddess. You can see some of them here and here and more about Chinese paper cut art here. This was my favorite gallery, although I found all of them interesting.
The last gallery was a large hall displaying wedding dresses. "This part mainly exhibits bride's wedding dresses. When the girls had learned how to do needlework, they began to prepare their wedding clothes. While making the wedding clothes, they were filled with happy thoughts about the future. Any nation's marriage customs has its own tradition. The style, the color and the pattern of the wedding clothes maintain a stable content, a nation's oldest worship and its symbol. The museum has collected about over 50 kinds of Chinese wedding dresses."
Most of these dresses were collected from the ethnic minorities living in China. They were diverse and beautiful. I don't know how I managed to erase all of this from my memory.