China's Rare Insect Museum opened on June 1 in Qingcheng Shan (青城山), claiming to house Asia's largest butterfly collection.
A visit to the insect museum makes for a quick jaunt out of the city. In less than one hour, Chengdu residents can arrive in Qingcheng Shan, and an hour or two is plenty of time to explore the museum.
The first phase of the museum, one of the four components of the newly built Qingcheng Shan Tourist Center, comprises a display floor of 4,000 sqm spread out over two floors. With 13,000 visitors on opening day, and 60,000 in the first half-month of the museum's opening, traffic far exceeds the museum's original expectation of 4,000 visitors per day.
A sign at the front door warns visitors that only a limited number of people will be allowed in at once, and not during lunch hour, either. But the large-scale insect models that scale the exterior walls of the museum are funny to look at while you wait along with hundreds of hyperactive kids who've just eaten lunch and are ready to tear around the grounds while their parents vainly try to keep them in check.
The visit, however, was not a particularly educational experience; as usual, you sort of have to already know what you're looking at as the minimal signage leaves more than a little to the imagination. And never mind what you're looking at, anyway: The verbal instructions—don't touch the displays, don't take photographs, and keep an eye on your kids—are frequently, enthusiastically, and loudly repeated over the museum's loudspeaker, which emits a Cultural Revolution-era sound quality.
The museum has been dubbed "Butterfly Valley" and, including its 700 butterfly species (covering a reported 95 percent of China's known species), boasts 20,000 insect specimens. But among these specimens, many are duplicates of the same species, pinned down in at best absurd and at worst laughable arrangements, including one smiley face. And we could have done without the much-touted-by-the-local-media "double helix" of nameless, faceless butterflies that greet visitors at the entrance and who seem to have died for the sake of decoration.
If nothing else, some of the bugs are certainly visually interesting, particularly the species that disguise themselves as branches or leaves, and the enormous and ferocious-looking long-horned beetles, of which there are many on display. (We were just glad they were dead and under a glass plate.) The electric blue, dinner-plate-sized butterflies, and others with amazingly intricate designs ingrained on their wings, are also good for oohs and ahs. But a good portion of the insects are simply unidentified in any language, let alone displayed with any additional information about them. Others are marked with their Chinese and Latin names.
Multimedia stations are arranged around the first floor of the museum—low-resolution touch screens that are text-heavy but don't necessarily correlate with the actual specimens on display.
The collection is largely the fruits of museum head Zhao Li's 20-plus years of collecting rare insects. He put forth the insects, he says, in order to promote education and enthusiasm among Chinese youth for the natural sciences.
A Sichuan Daily editorial published shortly after the museum's opening took the opportunity to decry Sichuanese tourists as uncivilized for having caused damage to the displays. The author cited wild children who broke the electronic magnifying glasses and visitors who hit the screens on the multimedia stations so hard that they have had to undergo repairs three times within half a month of the museum's opening. We didn't see any evidence of these
Despite our lack of enthusiasm for the museum itself, it can't hurt to swing by if you're in the area or want to make a day trip to the museum and Qingcheng Shan, the entrance to which is within walking distance of the museum. If nothing else, taking the train is always fun.
Qingcheng Shan Insect Museum 成都华希昆虫博物馆
A ticket on the bullet train departing from Chengdu's north train station and arriving at Qingcheng Shan approximately 45 minutes later costs RMB15. Fifteen trains run daily between 7 a.m. and 7:45 p.m. From the Qingcheng Shan station, walk along the tourist path for approximately 1 km until you reach the Qingcheng Shan Tourist Center (青城山游客中心), near the main entrance to the mountain and the Howard Johnson Hotel. Entrance to the museum is currently free.