It's a drizzly day here, which means the poor weather from Nanjing caught up with me. The two days that I spent wandering the city were warm and just like spring, and now it feels like I'm back in time for fall.
Editor's note: I'm complaining about the weather to piss off my relatives. It's apparently down to -35°C in Edmonton right now. There's snow in B.C. Myah ha ha!
I hit all these museums in Nanjing, and it became clear to me that my knowledge of Chinese history is lousy. Granted, Augustana didn't offer any Chinese history classes, and the one I was able to take at UofA ended in 1800, but you'd think I would have at least heard of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Uprising.
There were two museums that had artifacts from this time period. What I've been able to gather is that an uprising of some sort against the last Chinese dynasty was lead by the Heavenly Emperor. There was a lot about God Worshippers, but I wasn't able to determine if they were Christians or something else.
There was a great painting of the Chinese defeating the "Never Defeated British Army". Wish I could remember the proper title.
The more time I spend here the more frustrated I get at the gaps in my own education back home. Yes, Canadian schools are centered on North American and European history, but the fact that it was so rarely even an option for me to learn more is frustrating. I remember the Nanjing Treaty, and the Opium Wars, simply because my high school history teacher talked about the treaty allowing "everyone to rape China equally".
I wish I could talk to him about my experiences here, but the last I heard he was going to Romania to teach.
I thought about history, and the way we teach it, when I was in a museum that focused on the Ming Dynasty. Beautiful hairpins and necklaces, the reminants of some of the clothes of the period, pots and chamberpots and cooking pots and all labled so dully. "Lotus-plant design pot", "Butterfly hair pin". When Paul and I talked last night, he complained about the same thing. "In the Forbidden City, they've got this beautiful blue and white pot, and what's it labeled? 'Blue and White China Pot'. How can you like this stuff?"
I think this is why we lose so many people when we try to talk about history. How are we supposed to care about a gilded butterfly when we have no context for it?
I compare this to the amateur archeology where we get so many of our Greek treasures from. I used to want to shoot Schleiman in the head for messing up the excavation of Troy, but on the other hand, we have lables like "Death Mask of Agamemnon". A little bit more interesting than what my textbook wanted to lable it: "Basileu's mask".
History is my passion, I love everything I study about it, I actually care what happened a hundred or a thousand years ago. It's part of the reason I wanted to come to Asia in the first place. As much as I love Canada, our studied history only goes back so far. (I have yet to get an option to study Native American History.) China claims 5000 years of history, and there's so much more I could learn, so many more things I could discover.
And it's like historians are in a race to see who can make history as dull as possible. "Blue and White China Bowl"? Lord, put it in some context for crying out loud! Show a picture of how the damned butterfly hair ornament was worn! Create a replica of these things, and let people touch them. Make people see that there were people behind these bowls, these hairpins, these swords. Otherwise they're just things.