Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXX - Issue 1 - Entertainment
100 Years of Chinese History... in 1 Room
by Ming Zhu
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and I was restless. Though I had heaps of work on my desk, I just wanted to out and see something. As everyone else on campus was busily studying for midterms, I decided to expand my horizons and do a bit of exploring -- I decided that it was time to take advantage of the rich academic and artistic resources surrounding me. Scrolling down "today's campus events" on the Stanford homepage, one exhibit jumped out and caught my eye. . . ."Enter the Dragon: An Exhibition Documenting the History of China during the Twentieth Century. Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion." My first thought was: "Herbert Pavilion? Where in the world is that?" My second thought was, "how come I've never heard of this before?"
An early-twentieth-century Japanese propaganda poster--just one of the pieces currently on display
I know that I'm rather ignorant in terms of campus events, but as an International Relations major with a focus in East Asian studies, I should have at least heard of the exhibit. And time was running out -- the exhibit was only running until March 29th. After quickly scanning a campus map, I set out for an afternoon of historical enrichment.
The collection I found at the Hoover Pavilion was quite impressive, even to one who frequents exhibits of this sort. During the two hours that I spent at the pavilion, I was joined by tourists, Stanford professors, area locals, and visiting academic scholars. One gentleman, a Chinese immigrant who had completed his masters in the United States, spoke to the breadth of the collection, noted, "there is something here for everyone." I would have to agree. Although not everyone would be able to spend a full two hours walking around a single room, it is definitely worth checking out.
With eight standing displays depicting eight separate historical eras, "Entering the Dragon" was simplistic but impressionable. The displays started with The Fall of the Qing Dynasty and ended with From Formosa to Taiwan, effectively covering all the major events of China within the last century. Besides artifacts such as photos, letters, and period printed propaganda, each display also contained a written summary of the era portrayed, lending a strong sense of cohesiveness to the entire exhibit.
This is not to say that the exhibit was bland or stoic in any way -- there were several items that stood out in terms of interest and unusualness. For example, I noticed that throughout the various eras, the political posters used as propaganda all drew upon the same basic artistic style. Whether it was the Japanese trying to legitimize the puppet-state of Manchuko or the Communists promoting the concept of free-marriages -- all the posters had a similar sense of cartoon-like artistry, reminiscent of Diego Rivera's murals in the Mexican labor struggle. The exhibit seemed to place an extra emphasis on these posters, displaying them throughout the room on the columns separating each case. Perhaps this was a testament to the fact that though history changes from era to era, there are certain aspects that remain the same throughout.
Having taken a couple Chinese history courses here at Stanford, I was somewhat familiar with the names and places mentioned on the placards scattered throughout the display cases. However, it's one thing to know that Sun Yat-Sen existed and played an important role in the creation of the Chinese Republic -- it's quite another to see his signature at the bottom of letters written to American acquaintances addressing the need to act "as soon as possible."
Yet, it was not any of the historical displays that made the greatest impact on me. To me, it was perhaps the smallest item that takes the prize in terms of effect. I could not take my eyes away from a central case dedicated to the "three-inch lotus" slippers that were used in foot binding during the Qing dynasty. Sure, I've read about the topic time and time again in history classes, but to see the actual shoes -- to realize exactly how small their feet must have been and how much suffering they must have endured. . . .the effect was incredibly powerful.
As they say, sometimes, you just have to see it to believe it. Take my advice -- go see it.
Housed at the Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion located next to Hoover Tower, Enter the Dragon is open to the public free of charge from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. Contact Linda Bernard (Deputy Archivist) at 723-0141 or Cecile Dore Hill (curator) at 724-7342 if you should have any question regarding this exhibit. You can visit the exhibit on the web at the Hoover Institution's Web site, http://www-hoover.stanford.edu.
Page last modified on Thursday, 02-Mar-2006 00:20:53 MST.