What's there to do in this city? If downing hotpot or being harassed by ear-pickers and beggars in one of Chengdu's many overpopulated, "laidback" teahouses isn't your thing, why not make an escape and head to a museum? For around the same price as that hotpot meal, you can receive an impression of culture that will last hopefully much longer than until the next morning.
Museums countrywide are generally closed on Mondays. Exceptions are noted in museum notes where appropriate.
Part 2: Museums around Chengdu
Part 3: Museums in Sichuan
Part 4: Museums in Chongqing
Jinsha Site Museum
The Jinsha Museum, in Chengdu's western suburbs, covers a fragment of a five-square-kilometer site of what was a major Ba-Shu culture settlement that flourished in eastern Sichuan from the Shang period to around 500 B.C.
Opened in 2007 after six years of development and construction (the ruins were unearthed in 2001), the Jinsha Museum houses the relics that were discovered in what is considered one of the most significant of modern Chinese history. Among the thousands of items unearthed is the gold foil "sun bird" that adorns the hoods of every Chengdu taxi cab and otherwise serves as an official insignia for the city.
The museum is separated into several halls: The Relics Hall is a large hangar built over sacrificial pits, where ivory, deer horns, pig teeth, statues, a few gold items, and ritual tools have been found. Dozens of pits a few meters in width and depth are all arranged in a regular grid pattern in the brown earth, but lack any English-language information though there is a Chinese-language video of the excavation playing, and wooden boardwalks laid through the site allow a close-up view.
The Exhibition Hall shows how what you've been looking at fits together, with a painting of the Shang Dynasty version of Chengdu—a large riverside village built around a "palace" surrounded by stuffed deer and hairy villagers. There's also a plan of the whole site showing how the different areas—the palace, sacrificial pits, graves, and houses—were arranged.
Downstairs are the real treasures: a bronze miniature of that famous Sangxingdui statue with huge, grasping hands and flared hair; hundreds of jade knives and axes; and small stone statues of tigers and kneeling slaves, their hands bound (possibly a sign of human sacrifice). Spectacularly colored jades, the gold mask, and the sun bird—both of which are surprisingly small, given their rather large status—are encased in glass and given a very prominent position in the museum.
—With research by David Leffmann
Jinsha Site Ruins Museum
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Entrance RMB80. 金沙遗址博物馆
The Sichuan Provincial Museum dates back to 1941 when it opened at Huangcheng Mingyuan Lou (皇城明远楼), a building within the old city walls, situated roughly where Tianfu Square now stands. It moved a second time, in 1949, to People's Park. In 1965 it moved to 3 Renmin Nan Lu, Section 4, and stayed there until it closed in 2002. After eight years of construction its new, 50,000-sqm location opened to great anticipation near Songxian Qiao.
Following the typical cylindrical Chinese-museum layout, the Sichuan Museum gives off a very similar vibe to other regional museums in the country—namely the Shanghai Museum, the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, and even the Sichuan University Museum. Regardless, alongside Jinsha, Sanxingdui, and Jianchuan, the Sichuan Museum's current incarnation helps cement southwest China's status as being able to offer visitors international-standard museums.
Given the museum's size and scope, visitors should plan to spend at least a half day visiting if they wish to view all of the halls. The three-floor museum holds a dozen galleries, and each gallery contains an abundance of items on display.
The museum's excellent lighting, intuitive placement of exhibits, and attractive interior decoration all make it a pleasure to visit, especially compared to many of the local museums' subpar quality. The showrooms are easy to navigate, and every gallery is decorated in the style of the items it houses; for instance, signage in the Bronze Hall is made to look like corroded, greening bronze, and the Pottery Hall features pottery-embedded walls and glass floors, underneath which are broken pieces of ceramic. Ancient seals are displayed in glass cases above a mirror that reflects the imprint through a magnifying glass. The shadow-puppet display is a room with illuminated walls, each panel displaying a puppet.
Notable displays include the 20th-century Sichuanese painter Zhang Daqian's reproductions of the Dunhuang frescoes, 5,000-year-old pottery, and a hall dedicated solely to Tibetan artifacts, including clothing and religious relics. The Folk Customs hall displays artifacts from a number of Sichuan's minority ethnic groups, including jewelry, clothing, musical instruments, and everyday objects used by the Qiang, Yi, and Tujia people. Other halls include Han Dynasty Pottery, Bronze Center, Calligraphy and Painting, Ceramics, Sichuan Folk Relics, Industrial Relics, and the Wanfo Temple Stone Sculpture Center.
Audio tours in Chinese and English are available for RMB20 with a deposit of RMB200 and an ID. Guided tours also available for between RMB100 and 250 depending on the size of the group. The vast majority of signs are in Chinese and English, with some also displaying Japanese and Korean.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free entrance. 251 South Huanhua Road 四川博物馆 浣花南路251号 Tel. 65521888 or 65521555. Bus lines 19, 35, 47, 82, 301, 309A, and 407 to Songxian Qiao (送仙桥站)
Sichuan University Museum
Generally considered one of Chengdu's better museums is the Sichuan University Museum. The nearly century-old museum was founded by West China Union University professor Daniel Sheet Dye in 1914 and attained national reputation by the 1940s. The museum's collection of more than 40,000 artifacts, some of which date back to the Western Han Dynasty, includes stone carvings, painting and calligraphy, china, bronze, coins, seals, textiles, lacquer, and crafts, adornments, and daily-use items from the Tibetan, Qiang, Yi, Miao, Tujia, and Naxi ethnic groups. The museum moved to a new, 7,000-sqm building in 2005 and has 2,000 items on display over three floors currently, including one floor dedicated solely to propaganda and socialist realist posters of the 1950s. The basement houses sculptures and ceramics from recent excavations around Sichuan.
Sichuan Science and Technology Museum
One of Chengdu's overlooked museums is the Sichuan Science and Technology Museum, just north of Tianfu Square. In addition to occasional noteworthy exhibits (in past years it has hosted a Bodyworks exhibit, a Lego and Barbie collector exhibit, and numerous Comiday comic and cosplay conventions), the museum grounds hold various apparatuses, such as a perpetual-motion machine, to promote learning—as well as other oddities, such as an empty hall, ostensibly for playing badminton in. With 20 halls spread out over 40,000 square meters on four floors featuring displays on aviation, car, engines, electricity, ecology, robots, physical forces, biology, mathematics, astronomy, dinosaurs, and pandas, the museum seems to target young people in particular: Its entire top floor is dedicated to various hands-on displays. Scale models of Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong, and the Dujiangyan irrigation project might interest more mature visitors. Signage is bilingual but detailed explanations are in Chinese only.
The museum, which opened only in 2006, is perhaps the most iconic in the city given its location directly behind Chairman Mao, which guarantees that its prominent signboard will be included in many photographs of the statue. The top floor also offers a great view overlooking Mao's massive shoulders and southward down Renmin Nan Lu, all the way to the Rennan Flyover on a clear day.
Sichuan Science and Technology Museum
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (no admission after 3:30 p.m.). Entrance: RMB30 (15 for students with ID), with additional fees for car and flight simulators. 16 Renmin Zhong Lu Middle Sect. 人民中路一段16号 Tel. 86609999. The museum's official website features a panoramic views of all halls and a virtual tour of the museum
Dinosaur Museum at Chengdu University of Technology
The Chengdu University of Technology (成都理工大学) is home to a one-room, old-school dinosaur museum featuring several complete dinosaur skeletons that were excavated in Sichuan (see Zigong Dinosaur Museum), fish fossils, and other natural-history artifacts. The museum is located near the back gate of the campus.
Dinosaur Museum at Chengdu University of Technology
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but can be sporadic. Entrance: RMB10 for adults (children enter for free). 1 Erxian Qiao East Third Street 成都理工大学恐龙数字博物馆 二仙桥东三路一号Tel. 84077579
Other Museums in Chengdu
A number of Chengdu's major tourist attractions and historical sites also hold small collections or other educational venues. These include Dufu's Thatched Cottage (杜甫草堂; entrance RMB60; life and poetry of Dufu, archeological site with Tang Dynasty pottery), Wang's Tomb (Yonglin Mauseoleum/ 王建/永陵博物馆; entrance RMB20; dedicated to the first Shu emperor), the Wuhou Temple (武侯祠; entrance RMB660; named after Zhuge Liang and focuses on the marquis of the Three Kingdom period); and the Giant Panda Museum in the Panda Breeding and Research Center (成都大熊猫繁育研究基地; entrance RMB58; focuses on the scientific research of panda reproduction).
Also of note is a private collection of stone sculptures assembled starting in 1993 by Sichuanese artist Zhu Cheng and put on display in a building near the Happy Valley amusement park. The Zhu Cheng Stone Sculpture Art Museum (朱成石刻私立艺术博物馆) is open by request only. One more private collection worth mentioning is Wang Anting's "Mao Museum"—a large personal collection of all kinds of Mao Zedong memorabilia in a private residence near Tianfu Square that was open to the public for viewing. It closed when its owner passed away several years ago.
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