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Accepted Paper:

Representing the Prehistoric Past in Comprehensive Public Museums in Greater China  
Sofia Bollo (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

Today a great number of museums in China display Chinese past through archaeological material. As these objects are increasingly showcased in public museums and seen by global audience, they give rise to new representations of prehistoric past and multi-perspective narratives on Chinese civilization

Paper long abstract:

Treating objects as material mediators of meanings and seeing public museums as places for visual rhetoric, this research explores permanent exhibitions of Neolithic pottery in public museums in Greater China. This paper seeks to investigate narratives on the prehistoric past created in Chinese public museums, on the national, provincial and local level. The study integrates three key elements: the intentions of museum professionals, the content of the displays, and the interpretations of visitors. The specific object category of Neolithic pottery from China offers a peculiar example. Previously considered a material object of a primitive era, through museum narratives Neolithic pottery is now appreciated for its artistic and historical value, understood as embodying the beginning of the much-celebrated five thousand year long legacy of Chinese civilization. These phenomena are testimony to specific instances of new antiquarianism, cultural nationalism and heritage diplomacy, and are also driven by political and economic interests. The museological approach to the public display of the past in China is however heterogeneous. Despite following comprehensive exhibitionary strategies, ideas of authenticity and authority, aesthetics and realism, art and archaeology, denotative and connotative messages are played out in radically different ways, through the alternation of different scales of narrativity and display purposes in various museum spaces in China. By using a multi-sample and multi-perspective analysis, this study provides an original insight on the variety of narratives created around material objects from the prehistoric past as they are represented in museums in the present.

Panel P037
Museums as contested terrains: Memory work and politics of representation in Greater China
  Session 1 Sunday 3 June, 2018, -