From the first establishment of a museum in 1905 to the early-21st-century drive to build local museums, Chinese elites and officials have recognized the role of exhibitions in shaping the modern nation. Across this long 20th century, China’s exhibitionary culture has reflected three themes: the deployment of antiquity and tradition to inculcate national consciousness, the creation of revolutionary narratives to model political participation, and the presentation of modernity to inspire a vision of national “wealth and power.” During the Republican period (1912–1949), the Nationalists protected the imperial collection and established revolutionary memorial halls, and elites built local museums while businessmen championed native goods in national product fairs. The Communist Party, which came to power in 1949, created a Museum of the Chinese Revolution while also developing a cultural bureaucracy to preserve cultural relics. During the Mao years (1949–1976), exhibitions were part of everyday life, from rural exhibits about agricultural production to propaganda displays that justified class struggle. Since China’s period of “reform and opening-up” in 1978, exhibitions have played a central role in cultural diplomacy while also serving national aims of domestic tourism and “patriotic education.” The enterprise of the Chinese museum has always had a dual aim: to make the modern nation and to serve the pedagogical state.
Billy So and Sufumi So
Often considered one of the most prosperous dynasties in China’s two-thousand-year imperial history, the Song dynasty lasted for about three hundred years (960–1276 ce). The dynasty is sometimes credited with having developed the world’s first modern economy. While the Song economy lacked such essential characteristics of modern economic growth as science-based ways of improving industrial output and law-based capital markets, there was an undeniable presence of market forces that depended on a combination of product specialization, industrialization, urbanization, commercialization, monetization, and the widespread use of credit instruments. Such are the modern tendencies that many scholars have seen in Song China. The Song’s commercial growth predated the development of trade and commerce in late medieval Europe that began in the 11th century. None of the European cities of this period could compare in population size or trade volume to those in Song China. Neither the use of paper currency nor the burgeoning growth in agricultural production and commercialization existed in Europe’s commercializing economy. From this angle, Song China deserves to be recognized as the world’s first modern economy.