Across China: A century-old museum documents specimens, history
TIANJIN, May 18 (Xinhua) -- With more than 20,000 rare specimens of hairy rhinoceros, wild donkey skeletons and fossils unearthed in north China on display, the collection left by French Catholic Jesuit priest and naturalist Paul Émile Licent (1876-1952) a century ago is well preserved in the museum that he built in north China's Tianjin Municipality.
The three-story Beijiang Museum, which is the predecessor of Tianjin Natural History Museum, was founded in 1914 when it was among the finest museums in the world and the accolades continued into the 1920s and 1930s.
Monday coincided with International Museum Day. While hosting visitors in the antique building located in the campus of present-day Tianjin Foreign Studies University, Zhang Caixin, the incumbent curator of Tianjin Natural History Museum, said the century-old Beijiang museum was reopened to the public in 2016 after 78 years of closure.
After the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression broke out, the Beijiang museum was closed in 1938 when Licent was called back to France. When he left Tianjin, he only brought with him his personal belongings and left all his scientific research results in the museum in Tianjin.
The museum still keeps matchboxes and soap boxes that Licent used to store specimens, which showed how he scrambled to conduct his research with very limited funds.
Based in Tianjin, Licent carried out 25 years of field excavations and scientific investigations in north China, covering a journey of about 50,000 km.
A renovation of the museum was proposed in 2014 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, and the 100th anniversary of Licent's visit to China.
The renovation of the museum had undergone great difficulties. The old building was fixed and all fossils were reinforced with special techniques in their original exhibition arrangements when it was reopened, Zhang said.
"It was the first natural history museum in northern China, and the museum itself has become a 'living fossil' recording the development of early Chinese museums," Zhang said.
With new techniques to stabilize the temperature and humidity nowadays, the museum has introduced digital solutions to allow visitors to enjoy virtual tours even during its suspension of opening due to outbreak of COVID-19.
The museum has witnessed exchanges between China and France. French sinologist David Gosset was moved when he visited the museum on May 14.
"It is such a great treasury which has witnessed the science and cultural exchanges between the East and the West," he said.