Sat, Mar 27, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Hidden historical treasures

Once open only to honored guests of Academia Sinica, the Museum of the Institute of History and Philology now allows the general public to wander its halls

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER


Home to over 300,000 artifacts dating from 3,000 BC to the early 19th Century, the Museum of the Institute of History and Philology (歷史文物陳列館) is one of the nation's least publicized museums.

Located on the southern peripheries of Academia Sinica (中央研究院), it doesn't match the vastness of the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院), but for those wanting to view concise slices of Chinese and Taiwanese histories, with plenty of grammatically correct English information, then the Museum of the Institute of History and Philology makes for an interesting visit.

Established by the Institute of History and Philology (歷史語言研究所) in 1986 to exhibit a small number of artifacts and research them, the museum initially opened its doors to visiting scholars and guests of the prestigious institute only.

A combination of poor funding and shortage of both manpower and space, however, led to the private museum's sudden closure just over a decade later.

"The storage and research environments weren't very good and the display areas were small, cramped and rather unsightly. To make matters worse there was only one custodian to look after the entire building," said Wu Cheng-shang (吳政上), the museum's current director. "The redesign and renovation has enabled us to expand the exhibition halls and bring the general environment in line with that of a modern museum."

Reopened in 2002, the institute sets out to exhibit an eclectic collection of some of the most archeologically and historically important artifacts in its possession, regardless of their esthetic nature.

The redesign has allowed the museum to paint a succinct picture of the history and archeology of China. While the building remains too small to exhibit all of the hundreds of thousands of pieces in the collection, there are at least 5,000 artifacts on display at any given time.

The Museum of the Institute of History and Philology

The Museum of the Institute of History and Philology (歷史文物陳列館) is at 130 Yenchiu Yuan Rd, Sec 2, Nankang District, Taipei (台北市南港區研究院路3段130號). The museum is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30am until 4:30pm. Call (02) 2652 3180. Admission is free.

There are: small pieces of chariots excavated from the royal tombs of the Shang Dynasty (14 BC to 11 BC); Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) wooden military documents relating to the supply of frontier posts discovered in Mongolia; Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) documents from the archives of the Grand Secretariat; and Ching Dynasty (1644 to 1911) maps of Taiwan.

While the institute continues to amass material and work in close cooperation with historical and archeological institutes in China, much of the material on display has been in the ownership of the institute since its founding in Canton, now Guangzhou, in 1928 -- the year that saw the establishment of anthropological and historical studies in China by scholars like Fu Ssu-nien (傅斯年), who later become the president of the National Taiwan University and Li Chi (李濟).

In addition to the archeological and historical material the museum gives patrons an insight into how these pioneers of archeology managed to work against a backdrop of the constant threat of banditry and with the most basic equipment.

The section many scholars and historians consider to be the most important of all the institute's artifacts are those on display in the first floor's archeology exhibition halls. Excavated by the founding fathers of Academia Sinica between 1928 to 1947, the items include pottery from the Neolithic Lung-shan Culture (2,600 BC to 2,000 BC), a collection of mortuary utensils employed by shamans during the Eastern Chou period (771 BC to 221 BC), as well as artifacts unearthed from a Western Chou tomb (1122 BC to 770BC).

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