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The Guangdong Folk Arts Museum and Long Yuan Xi Village

October 28, 2011

It’s a rare moment when a village is destroyed for the purpose of historic restoration. It’s happening right now in a village located next to Guangzhou’s Chen Clan Academy. The Chen Clan Academy is home to Guangdong Folk Art Museum, a reasonably priced museum that shows some of the best tile sculptures, wood carvings and one of the few protected Lingnan style buildings in the country. It’s one of the first protected cultural  landmarks in the  short history of the PRC.

The Chen family were not local to Guangzhou, but spread out over 72 counties in Guangdong and in 1888 pooled their resources to build an anchesteral hall completed in 1894. This hall has proven resilient enough to survive a revolution, civil war, world war, reform and even today’s era of rapid modernization.

This became the home of the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum in 1959, and during the cultural revolution it served as a printing factory. The wood carvings, ceramics, brick sculptures all depict Chinese myths and legions which contradict early values of the modern China. However, the red guards never laid a finger on this  place. The structure reflects the decadence of the Qing Dynasty and would be a prime target of Mao’s death of the four olds. The survival of the building is in it’s versatility.

Long Yuan Xi village does not have the same versatility as the Chen Clan Academy. Within the next year the Folk Arts Museum will begin a renovation and expand North to house several jade sculptures, this will be the demise of Long Yuan Xi village. Of course it’s not pleasant to see another village destroyed, but it’s great to see a development which isn’t high rise apartments or shopping  mall. How is it possible a neighborhood to be gentrified in the promotion of art and history?

The Museum’s Curator, Li Zhouqi is a member of Guangzhou’s municipal people’s congress. A lesson learned, instead of fighting the government it’s better to join the CCP and make positive changes within. The complex situation of destroying a village to enhance a museum coensides with Premier Wen Jiobao’s lip service to China’s cultural preservation. He was quoted by Macau Daily times as charging developers across the country as “Destroying the real and building up the fake” this past September.

The restoration of many historic districts in Guangzhou began two years ago during the preparations of the 2010 Asian Games. If we compare the Asian Games with the Shanghai Expo and the Beijing Olympics, Guangzhou has done a much better job capitalizing on it’s historical landmarks than Beijing or Shanghai. Such as the restoration of Shamien Island and Daling Village.

Right now a plaster wall separates the bus stop and already separates the village from the main street and once walking behind the village you can see many of the buildings which were literally split in half. I spoke with a family whose home will be destroyed, they are receiving adequate compensation for their property and are very proud of the quality of the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum has given to the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall.

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Some of the most amazing features of the Chen Clan Academy are not in it’s exhibits but the wood carvings, lime sculptures, and ceramics.

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