The Museum of the Six Dynasties, Nanjing

It was my fourth trip to  Nanjing. And this time,  I was travelling with Terry and my parents-in-law. On the night of our arrival, I looked for museums as we were planning where to go the next day. I thought about the Nanjing Museum, where I visited the last time. It is the first public museum in China and it would I assume attract my parents-in-law who had never really visited a museum and who would be interested in the old and precious objects on display. Terry then mentioned ‘The Oriental Metropolitan Museum’ (in my opinion a literal translation ‘The Museum of the Six Dynasties’ would be more appropriate). I skimmed through a few comments by visitors and located it on the map. It might be a better choice, as it is so close to the tourist attraction ‘Office of the President’.

So the next day, we travelled to the museum by underground. The museum was in a modern building, next to a cafe and hotel. Upon entering the hall on the ground floor, Terry yelled excitedly as he pointed to one of the wooden carriage on display in the open air. The vehicle could measure how many distance it travelled, etc. He began to explain the mechanism: how the little man (a small statue) would strike the drum when it covered one Li (half kilometre). By counting the strikes, people could record the distance they had travelled. It was called ‘Mileage Recording Chariot’. At another corner, we also saw a ‘Compass Chariot’. The two vehicles looked extremely new and they were certainly replicas. I suppose they were exhibited because they were considered great inventions during that period of time.

The Chinese name of the museum is the ‘Museum of the Six Dynasties’ because Nanjing had served the capital of six dynasties in ancient times (Eastern Wu Dynasty, Eastern Jin Dynasty, Song Dynasty, Qi Dynasty, Liang Dynasty and Chen Dynasty). We watched the video shown on a big screen on the ground floor. The location of the screen was well selected, as it was just outside the toilets and served as an excellent place for visitors to have a rest. But to be honest, the cartoon video was not well-designed and did present any appealing ideas nor images.

As we went to the lower ground floor, we saw more archaeological objects and also the site of the ancient city wall. Then I learnt that the museum was only built a few years ago, following the archaeological discovery of the ancient city wall. That might explain why it was so modern and also most objects upstairs were replicas.

One of the most famous type objects were perhaps the ‘soul jar’, made of ceramics with complicated decorations of architecture and animals on top of the jar (Terry first thought that the jar was for preserving ashes, but the guard heard our conversation and approached to tell us what it really was). It was said that the little holes were supposed to hold the ‘soul’ of the owner of the tomb. As there were only few soul jars and they represented the burial rituals and beliefs during the Han Dynasty, Three Kingdoms and the Jin Dynasty, they were extremely valuable artefacts.

Overall, the museum did show us some aspects of the lifestyle during the Six Dynasties. The biggest disadvantage is that it does not have plentiful objects on display. But the settings were well designed, and I especially like the ambience on the first floor (decorations with stones, bamboo, and lotus).

While the lack of objects can be one disadvantage, the museum does offer much space for walking around, and it matches the Taoist philosophy. It would be better if the exhibition can highlight the geographical importance of Nanjing and how its role changed over time. I saw many objects about the eating habit, and transportation of that time. It would offer a more comprehensive picture if more objects about costume and music.