Obsession leads to cluster

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am


One of China's largest collections of private museums is hidden away, about an hour's drive to the west of Chengdu.

Named after its founder, Fan Jianchuan, the Jianchuan Museum Cluster holds outstanding exhibitions on the Cultural Revolution, including one on the educated youth who were sent to the countryside during that period. The tragic waste of talent, intense friendships and experiences of that era are conveyed through the diaries, letters, pictures and reminiscences of people who were forced to work in the fields.

The cluster also includes the Wenchuan Earthquake Museum, which Fan put together within a month of the 8.0-magnitude disaster of May 12, 2008.

The story of the earthquake and its effect is told in pictures, installations, multimedia and sculptures that line the walls of steel containers linked by staircases. The exhibition highlights the days when the world watched Sichuan and Chengdu deal with the immensity of the disaster, which killed more than 87,000 people.

Fan has also put together an installation called the Plaza of the Martyrs, featuring more than 200 statues of early 20th-century heroes of China's struggle to gain independence from foreign powers. All of the statues, including those of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek, face in the same direction, and have expressions ranging from determination to optimism.

Fan says: 'When I feel low, or tired, I come to the plaza and stand with these old heroes, and I feel as if I am one of their soldiers.'

He has collected hundreds of thousands of items since he was a boy. He left his post as vice-mayor of Yibin, in Sichuan province, in the late 1990s to pursue his hobby and, in 2002, bought land in Anren County for his museum. Since then he has amassed countless artefacts and memorabilia through auctions, buying out small collectors and from agents who help him acquire exhibits from all over the country. He estimates that he receives about 100 containers of memorabilia a year.

'I would say that I am obsessed,' Fan says. 'But it's more than that, collecting is my hobby, my job, my life.' There are five major museums in the cluster, but Fan has plans for several more, including one on the Korean war, on Japanese soldiers, and on righteous and corrupt officials through China's history.