The Shimao Maritime Silk Road Museum is based in Shishi, Quanzhou and covers nearly 11,500 square metres. The new museum showcases around 2,000 historic items that tell the story of the famous historical sea route – from porcelain and jade, through paintings and calligraphy, to the silk itself.
The Maritime Silk Road was a vital element of the historic Silk Road, the economic and cultural bridge between east and west that connected China with more than 100 countries and regions, from Quanzhou and coastal China to East Africa, Arabia and Europe.
“Quanzhou was the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, and the city of Shishi is also my hometown,” said Hui Wing Mau, chairman of Shimao Group, talking to CGTN.
“The culture of the Maritime Silk Road spread to Southeast Asia and other countries from here. That’s why I built this museum right here.”
Setting a good example – state and private collaboration
The museum is a collaboration between the state-run Palace Museum in Beijing and global real-estate company the Shimao Group. The Palace Museum supported the design and construction of the building and will play a major role in its operations. It will also loan exhibits – over 300 items from its collection relics are presently on display – and will host temporary exhibitions at the new museum.
Wang Xudong, director of the Palace Museum believes such collaborations are a good model for the future. “They set a good example to private museums,” he said in a video interview, suggesting that national museums can offer their expertise and experience to help private museums better preserve and manage collections.
The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, has around 25,000 relics related to the ancient maritime route. Hui Wing Mau has his own formidable collection. In 2017 he paid $20 million for a scroll known as “Landscape Map of the Silk Road” thought to have been painted during the Ming Dynasty and showing ancient trade routes stretching through Central and West Asia to the Middle East.
The museum offers digital and interactive multimedia alongside its physical displays. The hope is that it will shine a light on what it calls the “neglected history” of the ancient route. It’s expected that it will collaborate with a wide range of other museums, both national and international, to explore the route more intricately.
There are also hopes that the new museum might encourage UNESCO to look more favourably on the possibility of designating the Maritime Silk Road a world intangible heritage.
China’s expanding cultural landscape
The Shimao Maritime Silk Road Museum is just one of many new museums planned in China as the country rushes to showcase its rich heritage and natural history. The city of Shenzhen alone has announced plans to build five museums over the coming three years.
While the Fujian museum follows traditional design in its architecture, the Shenzhen museums are far more futuristic. The Shenzhen Natural History Museum takes its inspiration from the winding curves of the Yanzi waterways. Meanwhile, the city’s Science and Technology Museum has an organic U-shaped design.