Field Museum Unveils “Cyrus Tang Hall of China” Review – First Major US Exhibit on Chinese Culture and History

Now on display at the exhibit entrance, these guardian lions traditionally stood in front of Chinese imperial buildings and temples, as well as the homes of government officials and the wealthy and were believed to have powerful protective benefits


Walking past two guardian lions at the exhibit’s entrance, the Field Museum’s new “Cyrus Tang Hall of China” immerses you in Chinese culture and a short course on Chinese history in the past five millennia.  


How cool is this? A 19th century drama mask depicting a character who, after being blinded, uses a spell to create new eyes, resulting in a pair of tiny arms growing from his eye sockets with new eyes in the palms of his hands


This exhibit does so in a way that minimizes that “museum feet” exhaustion that shortens many a museum visit.  Their trick, so to speak, is, in part, to pair the showcase of objects with interactive touch screens that allow you to drill down into the amount of detail you desire about the 350 objects+ that comprise this exhibit.  Rather than go on information overload, you can let your curiosity guide you and energize you to explore.


And there is so much of beauty and interest to explore! 


This headress is made from Kingfisher feathers and has a center decoration of a bat, which in Chinese sounds like the word for happiness


From the more than 33,000 archeological, historical and ethnographic artifacts that the museum owns, they have chosen and displayed them so artfully that you can’t help linger again and again to delve into the details. 


An imperial robe with features that two-horned, five-clawed dragon that acknowledges the Emperor's special status


For example, when you see a beautiful silk imperial robe you can drill down into explanations of the symbols used in its decoration. 


Qingming scroll, 27 feet long, shows daily life in a bustling town and you can find out more about its scenes by using a touchscreen for details


Similarly you can stop at various points in a 27-foot long scroll painting to learn more about the scenes of daily life it depicts so artistically. 


3rd or 4th century tomb guardian using the rhinoceros as a menacing beast to protect the deceased


Watching school kids whiz back and forth it became apparent that the main themes of this exhibit are so well displayed that even a drive-by view conveys them. 


Bronze wine vessel called a jue (jwey), which held a single serving of wine was heated and served warm.


For example, when you are reading about the Bronze Age, you are surrounded by bronze. 


Yuan period seated bodhisattva


When there is discussion of varied religious traditions, there are absolutely gorgeous authentic religious relics such as a porcelain seated bodhisattva that seems to shout “INDIA” from its pose.  


The badge of a non-military civilian official in the Qing Dynasty would typically feature birds to symbolize loyalty and dignity


When the exhibit is explaining the role of the mandarin scholars in helping to rule China you are immersed in fine art works of their creation and used for their ornamentation.


Journey to the West shadow puppet show


For many of we children of all ages the top highlight of this exhibit will likely be the Shadow Puppet show that you can view as an audience member on one side of the screen or flip to its backside to see the puppeteers at work making their magic. 


Jaap Hoogstraten, Field Museum Director of Exhibitions


Catching a few words with Jaap Hoogstraten, Director of Exhibitions for the Field Museum, we learn that  perhaps we owe a debt to the Chicago International Puppet Festival for this engaging display.   The China Theater Works group from New York took a detour from that festival when Jaap says jokingly, “we locked them in a room and filmed them.”


Hoogstraten also shares that the next steps for this exhibit are to get it translated en toto into Mandarin and have that available via a web-based app.  There will also be a complementary book of essays by the hundreds of content collaborators that helped create this exhibit.  Look too for a children’s book, a medium favored by the Field.


This is not a special exhibit but rather a new permanent exhibit in the Field Museum.  It is the largest exhibit on Chinese culture and history in the United States and will surely bring visitors to the museum and to Chicago from around the globe.


Tickets to the Cyrus Tang Hall of China will be included in the Museum’s Discovery and All-Access ticket packages.  Visit the Field Museum website for more information. 




All images courtesy and copyright of The Field Museum.





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