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August 21, 2013

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Museums explore local treasures

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Chengdu is rich in insect wildlife, silk and precious buried bony wood. Nie Xin visits three important private museums, all of them free, all exploring natural and social history.Huaxi Insect Museum

Spectacular butterflies and moths, fascinating beetles, bees, crickets and other insects are on display at the Huaxi Insect Museum, the nation’s first modern insect museum.

Insects represent more than 90 percent of the Earth’s living organisms and the number of species alone is estimated between 6 million and 10 million. A million have been described by biologists.

There are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 species of butterflies in the world, and China has around 12,000 of them, scientists say.

The Huaxi Insect Museum in Qingcheng Mountain is one of China’s most important non-governmental museums of natural history. It is also known as the Biodiversity Museum of Qingcheng Mountain.

The museum has collected more than 400,000 insect specimens, including 70 of the world’s most unusual and spectacular insects, as well as many species unique to China.

Around 20,000 specimens are on display, 30 percent more than other insect museums in China. It is one of the biggest in Asia.

The museum mainly displays butterflies of west China and rare species from around the world.

“The museum has the world’s most complete collection of Chinese butterflies, according to international academic circles,” says museum director Zhao Li, who is a professor of insect study.

Chengdu-native Zhao has studied Chinese butterflies and rare insects for many years and has published many books on entomology in China and overseas, including “Chinese Lepidoptera,” the most complete record of Chinese butterflies, as well as hundreds of scientific articles.

“I love studying on insects and my aim in building an insect museum was to provide people the opportunity to learn about insects both in China and around the world,” he says.

The two-story museum covers 2,000 square meters and is visited by more than 400,000 people every year.

Admission is free. Operating costs, estimated at 4 million yuan (US$651,220) a year, are covered by the government in subsidies and research funding, as well as by nongovernmental organizations.

Zhao says he expects extensive cooperation with more non-government institutes.

“Our collection could use a larger museum to display more insect species,” says Zhao’s younger sister Zhao Li, deputy director of the museum and an insect expert herself.

The museum features dramatic exhibitions with strong visual impact. It has a multimedia computer display system offering extensive information, an insect screening room, a butterfly tree and butterfly column that are decorated with thousands of butterflies specimen.

It also features scientifically accurate insect models that are enlarged 30 times.


Address: Qingcheng Rd,  Qingchengshan Town, Dujiangyan City, Chengdu

Tel: (028) 8728-8991


Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-5pm

Admission: FreeMuseum of

Sichuan Silk 

While the fabled Silk Road from western China to the Mediterranean is known around the world, few people know about the four silk roads in ancient China, including the Grassland Silk Road, the North Silk Road, Southwest Silk Road and Sea Silk Road.

The Southwest Silk Road opened in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) connecting Chengdu with countries in Southeast Asia. It was in continuous use for more than 2,000 years.

ChengduÕs important place on the ancient caravan route is presented in the Sichuan Silk Museum founded by Wu Jinliang, who is also the director.

Wu is vice chairman of the Sichuan Silk Association and the Sichuan Sericulture Association and has always been connected with silk and silkworms. The word ÒSichuanÓ comes from its contracted form as well as the name of the ancient Shu Kingdom; Shu

() is another word for Sichuan.

The character Shu was inscribed on tortoise shell in the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century). The upper part of the pictograph appears to be a large eye of a silkworm and the lower part looks like a silkworm’s body.

In the museum visitors can see rare pieces of ancient silk, as well as reproductions, including the “Dancing Figure with Animal Veins” from the Warring States Period (476-221 BC) unearthed from the No. 1 tomb of the Chu Kingdom at Mashan in Hubei Province. Also on display is the silk piece known as “Five Stars Come Over China” unearthed from the No. 8 tomb of the Niya Site at Minfeng in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Sichuan embroidery and brocade include the pieces “Carp,” “Carp and Hibiscus Flower” and “Grandma’s House.”

The museum also displays a Dingqiao silk-weaving machine, tools for mulberry planting and silkworm breeding, colorful trans-gene silk yarn, fossils of ancient mulberry, as well as many silk handcrafts.

Silk is closely related to China’s social history and civilization. Silk pieces were once offered to gods and ancestors. Garments of silk represented different social grades; fine silk garments were only permitted to noble and privileged classes at one time. Eventually silk was worn by ordinary people, as it is today.

“We are not merely presenting history but also developing this precious silk culture today and for the future,” says director Wu. “The legacy of historical riches of the Silk Road begins in Sichuan and continues today with the wisdom of new generations.”

Some old-time weaving skills in ancient times are preserved and demonstrated by the museum and the director says the aim is to use them in production today.

“The silk fiber discovered by Chinese is still the queen of all fibers around the world,” says Wu.


Address: 99 Yizhanhuan Rd, Shulong Avenue

Opening hours: Daily, 9am-5pm

Admission: Free

Chengdu Ebony Art Museum

For thousands of years precious ebony hardwood has been buried in the Chengdu Plain and is being excavated, carved and exhibited.

The Chengdu Ebony Art Museum in Qingcheng Mountain area displays around 1,200 pieces of ebony buried for several thousands of years, many in riverbeds and one, known as the “Titan,” for an estimated 7,000 years. Some were carved in ancient times, some today. Carving ebony roots is an ancient and modern art, and an industry in some Sichuan villages.

The wood is hard and durable, dark brown and black, and renowned for its ornamental value, especially in carving. Trunks of buried ebony are worth millions of dollars.

There’s an old saying about ebony, “A box of jewelry is inferior to a piece of buried wood.” Ebony trees are sometimes called “vertical jewel boxes” because of their value.

In Sichuan, buried wood is mainly found in the Chengdu Plain in the Yangtze River and near its tributaries of Minjiang, Tuojiang and Jialing rivers.

“There were hundreds of millions of trees in ancient times, but few were preserved. Buried wood can be our guide to unraveling myths,” says Lu Hongjie, a Taiwan businessman who founded the museum in 2011.

Born in Taiwan and now living in Chengdu, Lu is one of the world’s few collectors of buried ebony and is also a sculptor. He founded the museum after 10 years of preparation.

The two-story museum displays natural buried ebony, sculptures and craft carvings and souvenirs.

Ebony carvings by well-known Chinese sculptors are displayed.

They include bodhisattvas, birds of prey, bats and images from ancient Chinese history and folktales.

Some works are on sale, priced as high as 600,000 yuan (US$97,690).

“The great amount of buried wood unearthed in Sichuan conveys the beliefs and myths of the ancient Shu people and provides a new subject for research about environmental change and social evolution in the Shu Kingdom,” Lu says.

 Address: Qingcheng Rd, Qingchengshan Town, Dujiangyan City

Tel: (028) 8757-7313, 8725-7369


Opening hours: Daily, 9am-5pm

Admission: Free



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