A Step into the Past

With the short amount of time I have left in Haikou, I’ve decided to explore whatever else that’s left that I haven’t seen yet. That brings me here, to the Hainan Provincial Museum.

Don’t forget, we’re in Hainan, China. It’s definitely not as grand as the British Museum I was walking through half a year ago. But at the same time, it is a provincial museum after all, so I had some sort of expectation as I was walking through the front door.

Through the front doors is a large lobby space, with three stories of exhibition halls surrounding it. At first glace, you can already tell that this museum is not one of those overwhelming large museums. You can definitely get through all the material here in half a day.

There are no exhibitions on the first floor – it seems like they were under renovations, or in the middle of a change. I went right up to the second floor, where there were a few special collections of Chinese paintings and antiques. Two of the halls were filled with ancient relics, both ceramics and pottery. Honestly, I wasn’t all that interesting at looking at objects with just a tag of where and when it was found, and its probable age. I appreciate that these are all really old and beautiful, but I’m just not learning much. I’ll glance at it, and it’ll soon fade away from memory.

Also on the second floor is a temporary exhibition of modern paintings. It was actually the first hall I stepped into, and when I saw how empty it looked, I was quite shocked at first. I was expecting something at least a bit better, even if it didn’t have to be amazing. Luckily, this was only one of the many rooms, and there were better surprises to be found.

On the other side of this floor is where the interesting stuff starts. I walked into an exhibition that outlined the history of Hainan, starting from the ancient kings of China. They talked about how the first inhabitants from thousands of years ago must have lived – literally savage lives, like cavemen, hunting with spears and living only the most out of the most simple things. They talked about how Hainan slowly because an educated city. It’s actually an interesting story. Hainan was regarded as a wild island back in the day, and a perfect place to send people to exile. Many banished lords were sent here, and because of their education and background, they slowly built up this island to become a much more advanced city by means of irrigation and agriculture.

There was an excerpt on different religions across Hainan, and Christianity is surprisingly popular in this Chinese province. Instead of regurgitating the information, I’ll just leave it here and you can read through it if you’re interested. (You can click on the picture for the original, more legible version.)

One of my favourite parts of the history exhibition was this map of Hainan, outlining all the cities that were populated in ancient day, and the map of how it was drawn back in the day. Instead of the maps we are familiar with today, their maps were largely based on topography and environment – because those were literally the only benchmarks they had!

They also had this reconstruction of one of the cities in it’s Qing Dynasty form. These are the more memorable kinds of things I like to see in an museum.

Another thing I learned is that while they have the famous Silk Road through the mainland of China, they also had a “Marine Silk Road” through the South China Sea. Many relics were found at the bottom of the ocean near Hainan, and they sit in the museum today.

As we get into more modern history, you can see a lot more things that are still present in the city today. For example, they did a reconstruction of what the old Boai Road must have looked like at the peak of its prime. It still largely looks like that in its current state, even if it’s no longer a buzzing center of the city.

There is also a mini model of the Xiuying Fort, which I had also visited in real life. In the modern history section, they have on display these articles from a Japanese magazine during the World War era, and you can clearly see soldiers invading this very area. It’s crazy to think how real and modern all this history is!

After the history lesson is my favourite part: the culture lesson. In this section, they focus on the three main aboriginal tribes of Hainan; literally, the people that have been living here for as long as they can remember. The biggest tribe is the Li (黎) family, who have been here for for over 3000 years! The Miaos (苗) were probably soldiers that moved in during the Ming Dynasty ages, and the Hui (回) people from the Song/Yuan Dynasty. These aboriginal people mostly lived in central and southern Hainan, and their villages still exist today.

One of the most interesting things I remember is this part about the different traditional clothing of each tribe. Outsiders might not realize there’s a difference, but when they point it out, it’s actually quite obvious. Here’s the Li family garb:

Miao family:

And the Hui family, which is the most distinct for me, because I remember reading that the Hui tribe is largely Islamic. This fact really reflects through what they wear!

Continuing on with clothing, they also have some clothing examples for common events, such as weddings and ceremonies. This one is for newborn children:

As you keep walking, you’ll come across this real-sized model of a village house from the Li tribe, and how they usually look inside.

When I saw this exhibit, my eyes immediately lit up. Apparently, the Li tribe plays this traditional sport called “趕狗歸窩” (literally translated into “chase the dog home”), and it looks exactly like floor hockey.

Finally, I went to the last section, which shows some common household items from each tribe. When I first saw these items, I thought, “how interesting can this really be?”. After all, they’re just ‘things’. But then I read the annotations, which told me some pretty memorable facts. For example, I never would have guessed that these items are all made of a single log! No splices, no glue, just carve – like how a traditional canoe is made. And just for the record, this type of craftsmanship is unique to the Li tribe.

Hainan is a place with an abundance of natural resources. Whenever the Li and the Miao people go out, they always carry these baskets around their waist, in case they come across anything useful. These people have different tastes in every, even in the style of the baskets. The top row are from the Li tribe, and the bottom from the Miao tribe.

“Everything” also includes rice mortars. On the left is a mortar from the Miaos, and on the right, the Lis.

Finally, to end off on a tropical note: a traditional Chinese instrument made out of a coconut.

More than one person has told me that when you go to a museum, you only remember seven facts at most. I’m pretty sure I remember more than seven – albeit with a bit of help from the pictures I took, but you have to ‘want to remember something’ before you can actually remember it, right? Otherwise, I would be staring blankly at those pictures on my phone and trying to recall the caption in my mind at the time that I took it, to no success. (And yes, it does happen relatively often).

Honestly, I didn’t expect much of this place; I just wanted to see what else there is to see. But after placing myself in this area, and giving myself a chance to get to truly know Haikou, I can definitely say that I’m glad I paid a visit to this Hainan Provincial Museum.

One response to “A Step into the Past

  1. Pingback: Lit | Adventures of a Wandering Flower·

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