The Capital Museum itself is a work of art, melding both classical aesthetics and contemporary building features. The huge atrium continues the tradition of using deep-set eaves in Chinese architecture. And the use of stone for the walls symbolizes the city walls in Chinese antiquity. Outside the door of the northern hall is a Qing-dynasty flight of steps, and inside the great hall there is a Ming-dynasty pai-lou or gate that symbolizes the ‘central axis,’ a characteristic feature of Chinese architecture.
The permanent exhibition includes ten sections that display 675 objects, as well as a large number of illustrations and photographs. Six primary episodes in the history of Beijing have been selected to depict the cultural changes and unique history of the city and the region. These include the ceremonies surrounding the founding of the People's Republic of China, the May Fourth Movement, the era of the Qing-dynasty emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong, the battle to protect Beijing, and the Dadu period of the Yuan dynasty. These narrate the unique flavor of the history of the capital and demonstrate the fact that it represents an amalgamation of many cultures and peoples who have gradually formed what has become not only a national capital but a cultural center.
Another exhibition focuses on the traditional aspect of old Beijing, namely the life in hutongs and courtyard houses. In dramatic fashion, it displays the life of an ‘old Beijinger,’ as well as a household in a hutong or Beijing alley. These show all the various aspects of daily life, including the focus on exquisite craftsmanship that was characteristic of the old days.
The Museum also displays a number of masterpieces in sections that include ancient ceramics, bronzes from the Yan region (where Beijing is located), ancient calligraphy, paintings, jade sculpture, Buddhist arts, and treasures of the scholars' studio. These seven sections are meant to supplement and deepen the visitors' understanding of Beijing culture. A total of 5,622 items are exhibited in this area.
The Capital Museum is at the forefront of the world’s most modern and large scale museums with its highly impressive architecture, its wealth of exhibitions, its advanced technology and its attention to aesthetics. As such, it contributes to the realization that Beijing is a historic capital, a cultural center, and an international cultural capital as well.
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