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Global Times: Jilin City Manchu Museum breathes new life into Manchu culture

2024/6/19 12:20:50

BEIJING, June 19, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized the need to strengthen support for the inheritance and protection of China's intangible cultural heritage, as well as enhancing research into the historical culture of ethnic minorities, thereby consolidating the sense of community for the Chinese nation.

In recent years, the Jilin City Manchu Museum in Northeast China's Jilin Province has been delving and actively passing on intangible cultural heritage, integrating it into the lives of the people and continuously promoting the essence of Manchu history and culture through innovative development.

Showcasing rich history

Upon entering the Jilin City Manchu Museum, a bronze sculpture of a soaring gyrfalcon atop a large natural rock captures the attention of visitors. The sculpture represents traditional Manchu falconry.

"Here, we can see the Manchu script in the Jilin Manchu Exhibit. The style is unique, isn't it? There is a saying about the Manchu script: a stick in the middle, thorns on both sides, with circles and dots, that's Manchu writing. Let me read it in Manchu for you," a guide says as she takes a group of students on a study tour.

Study tours or educational trips combine learning with travel. These trips are designed to provide students with practical knowledge and hands-on experiences outside the traditional classroom setting. At the exhibition hall of the museum, the students' eyes are filled with curiosity as they focus on the Manchu script.

The museum is located within the former residence of Wang Baichuan. The residence itself is a provincial-level protected relic. It is the only remaining intact classic courtyard house in Jilin dating from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to the Republic of China (1912-1949).

Covering an area of 3,000 square meters, it mainly showcases the Jilin Manchu Exhibit, highlighting local and ethnic culture. It has become a popular attraction, receiving nearly 220,000 visitors in 2023.

"Jilin city was originally called Girin ula, one of the important birthplaces of the Manchu people," explains Zhang Hanbing, director of the museum.

Girin ula is a Manchu phrase meaning "city along the river," referring to the area now spread along the Songhua River in Jilin. The ancestry of the Manchus can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the Sushen tribe that lived prior to the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC), and later to the Mohe and Nüzhen tribes that existed during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. Many ancestors of the Manchu people thrived on this land.

During the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty, Jilin established a General's Office responsible for tribute to the imperial court and built factories. Generals were appointed and a ­provincial capital was set up. An inland river navy was established here, and temples for sacrifices were built. This area became one of the political, military, economic, and cultural centers of the Qing Dynasty's northeastern frontier.

"Jilin has many precious historical and cultural relics, but they were not fully utilized previously," Zhang said.

In 2009, the museum was established with support from the local government. Over the past 15 years, the museum has continuously explored local cultural heritage and improved its exhibits, setting up eight exhibition halls, with long-term exhibitions such as Tracing Manchu Roots and Manchu Production and Living Customs. These exhibitions comprehensively cover Manchu history and intangible cultural heritage, fully showcasing the rich history and culture of the Manchu people.

Additionally, the museum has enriched its collection by soliciting various artifacts that reflect the long-standing history and culture of the Manchu people in Jilin. The museum now houses over 2,000 items.

These collections provide a panorama of the development of the Manchu people from the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589) to the present, presenting the culture and customs of the Manchu people in daily life, including education, entertainment, and sacrificial activities.

"Artifacts form exhibitions, and exhibitions represent history," Zhang said. "We hope to showcase the diligent, simple, brave, and generous image of the Manchu people through these memorable symbols and authentic historical items."

Lively inheritance of intangible cultural heritage

During a live performance of intangible cultural heritage at the museum, Shi Guanghua, a shaman cultural inheritor, dances to the music dressed in traditional shamanic attire, with copper bells around his waist producing crisp sounds as his clothes sway.

"What I just performed is the ancestral worship ceremony of the Shi family, a provincial-level intangible cultural heritage in Jilin," Shi told reporters after the performance.

Shaman culture showcases the traditional customs of the Manchu language, dance, etiquette and diet. The Shi family shaman culture, with its nearly 400 years of written history, is among the best.

"I started learning shamanic rituals at home when I was in my teens, but I ­always thought these traditions were a family matter and never considered ­bringing them into a museum," Shi answered when asked about his connection to the Manchu Museum as the 12th generation inheritor of the Shi family shaman ritual.

Previously, he worked in other cities to make a living, viewing shaman customs as a family responsibility.

His thinking changed in 2009. That year, the Jilin City Manchu Museum was established, and the then-director actively sought out Shi, inviting him to conduct intangible cultural heritage performances at the museum, saying, "The museum is not just 'amber' that preserves past history, the living inheritance of intangible cultural heritage is also very important. The shaman culture passed down by the Shi family for centuries is a 'living fossil' in this field. We need special talents like you."

Finally, Shi chose to join the museum.

He said that he felt confused at the beginning.

"Previously, our family's shaman culture was confined within our family and had little interaction with the outside world."

Shi recalled that at the time, not only did his family not understand, but he also had not fully shaken off the mind-set of "family inheritance." He was initially very resistant to the idea of intangible cultural heritage performances.

As his work continued, Shi's thinking continued to change. He realized that his family's culture was being noticed by so many people and that it reflected many traditional Manchu customs.

"With the platform provided by the Jilin City Manchu Museum, not only have we promoted and developed the Shi family's shaman heritage, but we have also brought traditional Manchu customs to the attention of more people. I am now very proud and full of enthusiasm," Shi said.

Today, the Jilin City Manchu Museum has become a well-known institution for the study and inheritance of shaman culture, attracting many shaman culture researchers from home and abroad every year for fieldwork and exchanges.

The "Shi's Drum Music" from Shi's family has also become a city-level intangible cultural heritage project.

"Turning my hobby into a career gave me more confidence to invest time and energy into it," Shi said.

Entering people's lives

At Jilin Agricultural Science and Technology University, a unique "Traditional Culture into Campus" event is underway.

At the podium, Yang Chao, director of the education department of the Jilin City Manchu Museum, is discussing the close ties between Jilin's history and Manchu culture. Seated in the audience, more than 70 teachers and students from the university listen intently to his words.

In April, the Jilin City Manchu Museum and Jilin Agricultural Science and Technology University signed a cooperation agreement to jointly build an education base to consolidate the sense of community for the Chinese nation.

"This event is just a snapshot of our cooperation," Yang said.

This kind of cooperation integrates Manchu culture into the lives and work of a broader audience effectively, which is of profound significance for the inheritance and development of Manchu culture.

"Museums should not only 'invite people in' but also actively 'go out' and combine Manchu history and culture with contemporary people's lives," Zhang said.

To this end, the Jilin City Manchu Museum has been building the "Walking Museum" brand since 2014, bringing the museum's cultural resources into schools and communities.

In 2023, the "Walking Museum" program held 20 campus events and six community events. So far, the "Walking Museum" program has reached more than 60 primary and secondary schools in Jilin.

Bringing the museum into people's lives also encourages more people to come to the museum in search of deeper experiences.

"Now, the museum receives an average of about 3,000 visitors per day, and during peak holiday periods, nearly 10,000 people visit the museum in a single day," Zhang said.

To meet the diverse needs of visitors to the greatest extent, the museum offers a variety of activities, including "Manchu Museum Studies," "Museum and Parent-Child Education," and the "Manchu New Year." About 200 events are held each year at the museum.

In addition to offline activities, the Jilin City Manchu ­Museum also extends its activities online, opening new channels for cultural dissemination.

In 2023, nine online events were held by the museum, such as those showcasing Manchu clothing over the century, achieving multi-dimensional and multi-form cultural benefits for more people.

"We are thinking about expanding the museum's building area," Zhang said, sharing his future plans with reporters.

"By then, we will invite intangible cultural heritage inheritors including Manchu paper-cutting inheritors into the museum to regularly perform and sell their works. We will only charge for expenses such as water and electricity, allowing visitors to experience the authentic living heritage and turning the inheritors' passion into tangible income, promoting the sustainable inheritance and development of Manchu history and intangible cultural heritage," said Zhang.



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