CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 10, June 2007


Briefs | China Heritage Quarterly


Fig. 1
Fig.1 Exterior view of the Capital Museum (Shoudu Bowuguan), Beijing.[BGD]

In June 2007, the Capital Museum (Shoudu Bowuguan) in Beijing is staging a temporary exhibition of bronzes from Baoji city in Shaanxi province. Since the 1970s, some of the finest bronzes dating from the Western Zhou dynasty have been unearthed by archaeologists in Baoji. But the bronzes from Baoji on display in Beijing were not excavated by archaeologists, but by farmers, who stood to earn a fortune if they had sold them to antique smugglers. This exhibition has a moral tale to impart, and it is to be hoped that the farmers received decent compensation for their honesty. The beauty of the bronzes represents the near perfection of this art and it may well have also stirred the hearts of the farmers who dug them up.

Fig. 2
Fig.2 Bonze gui vessel with kui dragon design
Early Western Zhou, 11th-10th century BCE
Height: 14.8cm, diameter 18.3cm
Excavated in 1976 at Zhuyuangou, Baoji city
In the collection of the Weibin District Cultural Centre of Baoji City
Ref: Li Xixing ed., The Shaanxi Bronzes, Xi'an: Shaanxi People's Fine Arts Publishing House, 1994, p.101.
Fig. 3
Fig.3 Elephant-shaped zun
Early Western Zhou, 11th-10th century BC
Height 23.6cm, Length 37.8cm
Excavated in 1974 at Rujiazhuang, Baoji City
Collection of Baoji City Museum
Ref: The Shaanxi Bronzes, p.101

Many of the 50 bronzes from Baoji on display in the Capital Museum bear inscriptions, and these are of particular importance for archaeologists and historians.(Figs.2&3) For example, on several of the bronzes the entire lineage of the Ji Clan, the imperial ruling family of the Zhou dynasty, came to light for the first time. The Capital Museum's own collection of bronzes does not include the national treasures that can be found in either the National Museum of China or the Palace Museum, but it has an interesting collection of very early Western Zhou bronzes and carriage fittings unearthed from the Liulihe site in Beijing of the ancient state of Yan, with which some histories of Beijing begin.

It is now nearly two years since the Capital Museum opened to the public, and many fine exhibitions have come and gone, including shows from the National Museum of Mexico, the British Museum and some of China's finest provincial museums. Located at Muxidi on the western flank of Beijing's Chang'an Avenue, the Capital Museum was completed at the end of 2005 and had a 'soft opening' at that time. Chang'an Avenue now boasts an A-List of museums; others are the National Museum of China, Palace Museum (Forbidden City), Military Museum and the Millennium Art Museum. The Capital Museum was intended to be a northern equivalent of the well-managed Shanghai Museum, China's first world-class modern institution of its kind, which opened in the 1990s.

Fig. 4
Fig.4 Aerial view of Confucian Temple, Beijing. Ref: Orientations, 25th Anniversary issue, July- August 1995, p.60.

The original Capital Museum was located within the grounds of Beijing's ancient Confucian Temple and Guozijian, where it could only ever display a fraction of its collection of more than one million artifacts.(fig.4) It closed in 2004 in preparation for the move to its new building. The construction and opening of the new Capital Museum also represented a welcome break for the Confucian Temple, one that is second in size only to that in Qufu, Confucius' hometown. Work to transform the Confucian Temple into the Capital Museum began in 1953, even though it was not opened to the public until 1981.


Fig. 5
Fig.5 View of ceremonial chime set inside the Dacheng Hall, Qianlong period (1736-95) Confucian Temple, Beijing. Ref: Orientations, 25th Anniversary issue, July- August 1995, p.63.

The Beijing Confucian Temple was built in 1302 and became the site where Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasty emperors offered sacrifices to Confucius. It covers an area of 22,000 sq m, with buildings covering more than 6,000 sq m. It has three courtyards that lead towards the main hall, Dacheng Palace. The two left and right Wu Palaces are positioned symmetrically across a central axis running from south to north. The Confucian Temple is the site of stelae bearing the names of all successful jinshi graduates of the highest imperial examinations, the calligraphy of all successful candidates who passed the examinations called gongche, and examples of the calligraphy of prominent ancient statesmen and literati, like Liu Yong and Ji Xiaolan. It also contains the Qianlong period replicas of the ancient ten stone, the originals of which are said to be those on display in the Palace Museum. In the main sacrificial hall, the imperial sacrificial vessels and musical instruments are arranged in their traditional order.(fig.5)

After the Capital Museum moved to its new premises in Muxidi, the museum was cut off from one long-standing source of funding. Potential investors in enterprises controlled by Beijing municipality often made large donations for the 'restoration' of the Confucian Temple, but there was never much work seen for the millions of US dollars that went to the temple, ostensibly through the Beijing Cultural Relics Bureau. Ironically, the Confucian Temple suffered more damage from the presence of the old Capital Museum than it did during the Cultural Revolution, when it was protected by virtue of the fact that the opera and dance troupes rehearsing Jiang Qing's revolutionary model operas were billeted there. Potential investors in Beijing can now openly endow a wing of the new museum, as is standard practice at the Shanghai Museum, where many of the halls are named for the returning sons of Shanghai who have bestowed substantial fortunes on the museum and gone on to set up shop in Shanghai.

Fig. 6
Fig.6 Liao dynasty pottery brick with Sanskrit inscription. Unearthed in Tongzhou, Beijing. In the permanent collection of the Capital Museum.[BGD]
Fig. 7
Fig.7 Nestorian cross of the Yuan dynasty (replica) unearthed in Beijing from the permanent collection of the Capital Museum.[BGD]
Fig. 8
Fig.8 Gold imperial crown of the Ming dynasty in the permanent collection of the Capital Museum.[BGD]

Covering an area of more than 60,000 sq m, the new Capital Museum is second in floor space only to the National Museum of China on the eastern flank of Tiananmen. The five-storey building can accommodate as many as 13 concurrent exhibitions, more than the National Museum of China, which allows for only two of its three levels to be used at one time for exhibitions. The Capital Museum has two permanent displays: 'Beijing: History and Culture' and 'Beijing: Formation of the City'. Of the 11 temporary displays, nine feature mostly relics from the museum's collection. There include exhibitions of local folk art, Peking Opera, ancient paintings, calligraphy, bronzes, jades, ceramics, scholar's studio pieces and Buddhist statuary. In all, nearly six thousand pieces are on display. The museum collection of Liao, Jin and Yuan dynasty material unearthed in the Beijing area is particularly impressive,(figs.6&7) and its Ming dynasty objects also remind us of the proximity to Beijing of the Ming dynasty imperial mausolea.(fig.8)

Fig. 9
Fig.9 Sign board of the Capital Museum featuring the calligraphy of Jiang Zemin.[BGD]


Square Hall Round Hall
  • Temporary Exhibition Hall
  • Multifunctional Hall
First Floor
  • Temporary Exhibition Hall
  • Multimedia Hall
  • Interactive Hall
Second Floor
  • Ancient Capital: History and Culture
  • Exhibition of Fine Ancient Calligraphy
Third Floor
  • Ancient Capital Beijing: Urban Construction
  • Exhibition of Fine Ancient Paintings
Fourth Floor
  • Exhibition of Fine Ancient Porcelain
  • Exhibition of Fine Ancient Buddhist Statuary
  • Drama Stage
  • Exhibition of Fine Ancient Jades
Fifth Floor
  • Old Stories of Beijing—Exhibition of Old Beijing Folk Customs
  • Exhibition of Fine Ancient Jadeware
Sixth Floor 
  • Exhibition of Fine Scholar Studio Objects

The Capital Museum is only one of 20 new museums being constructed before the 2008 Olympics, by which time the city will have a total of at least 130 museums. The Capital Museum integrates contemporary museum design with elements of classical Chinese architecture. The massive roof inherits its style from the roof overhang of Chinese traditional architectural style; the long stone curtain wall stands for the city wall in ancient China; and the gradient of the square refers to the architectural style of dais construction in ancient times. Other traditional elements incorporated into the design include a large feature danbi, a massive stone walkway carved with images of dragons, phoenixes and cloud for gods—and emperors—to walk upon, which is imbedded in the ground in front of the north gate of the hall. The leaning and projecting wall of the oval Bronzes Exhibition Hall, intended to suggest the unearthing of ancient relics, is another striking feature of the building's design.

There are three independent structures within the new museum: the rectangular Exhibition Hall, the oval Exhibition Hall and the large wing devoted to offices and laboratories. The spaces between them are occupied by the central hall and indoor bamboo courtyard, where restaurants and museum stores are located, and these make effective use of natural light and water. The Capital Museum now ranks as one of China's foremost museums.[BGD, © Bruce Gordon Doar]


Doar, Bruce, "The Preservation of Beijing's Confucian Temple", Orientations, July-August, 1995, pp 60-63