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15 July 2015

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Across China: Chinese Farmer Opens Private Museum to Preserve Memories

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LANZHOU, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Among a row of village houses with grey walls and wooden doors, a two-story building stands out not just for its height but also for the words hanging at the entrance: "Jiahe Museum."

Jiahe, which means well-growing rice seedlings in Chinese, reveals the agricultural aspect of the museum, including its founder, Wang Jijia, who is a 53-year-old farmer in Zhuanglang County in northwest China's Gansu Province.

Wang exhibits old items he has collected over the past 30 years in his museum that he established on the second floor of his house in 2019. Placed inside are glass cabinets, ink slabs, phonographs, and magnetic tapes, among others, which chronicle stories of the bygone era.

Wang shoulders the roles of a curator and a collector, among others. "As a farmer, I am full of emotions about what happens on the land."

When he was in high school, Wang was captivated by a pile of papers found at home -- some documents and certificates featuring the lifestyle of the older generations.

"Looking at those crumpled, yellowish papers from the old age, I can't help wondering the stories behind," he said.

That's how Wang's odyssey with collectibles began. Since then, he devoted all his spare time wandering around salvage stations, bookstalls, and neighborhoods to collect old stuff, such as books, certificates, and other items of daily use.

Wang's farm tools like shovels and hoes, remind him of the days spent with his grandparents on the field. Farmers would toil while singing folk songs to boost their spirits -- a distinct scene in the northwestern countryside, he said.

Wang's hometown in the county of Zhuanglang was surrounded by loess plateau, and soil erosion made it hard for locals to find fortune from the soil.

However, shedding sweat in the field, people in his memory never gave up hopes of a good yield, and after years of efforts, they finally built the spectacular local terrace landscape.

Therefore, many of Wang's objects are from that era reminiscing his family history. Over the years, as his collections grew larger, so did his dream.

In 2017, inspired by an exhibition in the province, he had the idea of establishing a museum displaying his collectibles. He hoped to offer the public a chance to recall those past days.

He borrowed money from the bank and used his knowledge from visiting various public museums across the country to design his own museum.

In two years, Wang built the museum that covers about 500 square meters with over 20,000 exhibits, ranging from items as old as several thousand years and new objects from his parents' generation.

"Chinese people are nostalgic, and some of them have experienced ups and downs that were totally different from today," Wang said.

In his museum, he hopes the older generation can recall the unforgettable days while youths can discern the changes brought by their parents, including their sacrifices.

"A museum is a place where people can talk to the bygone times while being surrounded by things of that era," he said.

Since its opening in September 2019, the museum has received more than 16,000 visitors, including culture lovers, elderly villagers, museum colleagues, and medical staff fighting against COVID-19.

Li Fenlin, deputy director of the Gansu Provincial Library, wrote on the guest book, "Wandering in the museum made me review the vicissitudes China had undergone. I am impressed, moved, and full of admiration for the work here."

Chinese museums have been booming in recent years. According to the National Cultural Heritage Administration, China had 5,535 registered museums nationwide by the end of 2019, an increase of 181 from 2018. Among them, 1,710 were non-state-owned museums. On average of two days, a new museum has been established in China since the 13th Five-Year Plan, which started in 2016.

The items in Wang's museum induce a sense of comfort for him. Being troubled by his failure to enter the university for many years, he gradually passed through the gloomy days by browsing various books and graduation certificates of different local universities. "It's like I can share their lives," he said.

Wang sometimes spends his entire day in the museum, reading a book, or fixing a broken item to better comprehend the stories behind his collections. Any intriguing clue would become the topic of his conversation with visitors.

"I believe I'm doing a great thing, and I will carry on. The next generations need to figure out how far we have come to make a better world," Wang said.

Source: Xinhua