A major museum for the Communist Party's literary warriors has finally been built at great expense in Beijing, a tribute to years of lobbying by intellectual Shu Yi, the son of writer Lao She. 'Not many museums in the world have had this kind of luck,' Mr Shu said sitting in his vast new offices at the Wenxue Guan, the Museum of Modern Chinese Literature that opened in June. 'Only five other countries in the world have built this kind of museum to writers.' The museum, which shares equal status with the History Museum and the State Archives, is one of a series of extravagant new buildings being rapidly erected around the capital to assert the party's stamp on Chinese art and history. Others include the state Opera House currently being built and the China Science and Technology Museum. The History Museum in Tiananmen Square is being renovated. The Government has spent 170 million yuan (HK$160 million) on the literature museum north of old Beijing, and is providing a generous budget of six million yuan a year for its staff of 140. The institution runs a library, archive and research centre dedicated to the literature that sprang up after the intelligentsia abandoned classical Chinese for the vernacular. 'We now have almost everything that people need in order to know about modern Chinese culture over the past century,' said Mr Shu, the museum's curator. Yet some Chinese writers are privately dubbing it the Cultural Revolution Museum, because it also serves as a shrine to writers such as Mr Shu's father who suffered persecution at the hands of Mao Zedong's Red Guards. The building itself is a striking but curious mixture of Western religious architecture and secular Chinese design. There are pillars from a Greek temple, stained-glass windows and frescoes and showcases of various precious relics preserved under glass such as novelist and journalist Xiao Qian's gas mask from his days as a correspondent during the London Blitz. The palm prints of one of Shanghai's top novelists, Ba Jin, cast in bronze, form the door handles of the entrance. He is also deified in one of the eight bronze statues in the museum garden. Elsewhere a televised play, Thunderstorm by Cao Yu, runs constantly in a darkened room. In other areas one can walk through the mock-ups of studios where Bing Xin, Ba and others composed their works. In a famous essay, Ba once called on the Communist Party to open a museum dedicated to ensuring that the Cultural Revolution, which he compared to the Holocaust, could never be repeated. Copies of that essay are now blocked on Web sites viewed inside the mainland and his plan was never endorsed by the Communist Party. Instead, he was only permitted to open an archive for the manuscripts of famous Chinese writers in 1985 which he financed with his own money. Cramped space was found at Beijing's Wanshou Temple for a collection which started out with donations from Ba himself. He provided thousands of books, letters, magazines and photos from his personal collection. The go-ahead to build the new museum was given by President Jiang Zemin in 1993 after Ba made a personal request for funding. But construction only started in 1998 at about the same time as plans for a similar institution were discussed in Taiwan. The museum's original mission to highlight the horrors of the Cultural Revolution has now been subverted. Instead it promotes the reputations of writers who had, at least for part of their careers, enthusiastically supported the new China established in 1949. The list of famous writers singled out for honour consists of just seven - Lu Xun, Cao, Ba, Mao Dun, Guo Moruo, Bing and Lao. The state-run museum intends to imitate the role played by the Academie Francaise, which since being founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu has accepted just 700 French 'immortals'. Many Chinese emperors also organised literary inquisitions and only granted approval to some scholars organised in imperial academies. 'It is essential to have a facility such as this,' Mr Shu said recently. 'Chinese literature is very important, and very close to politics, I think even closer than in most other countries. These writers fought for the people's freedom, and their fates were tied very closely to the fates of the people and of the country.' The 1930s was the heyday of literary freedom in China, but also a time when writers joined patriotic associations which came under the dominance of the left. The fact that leading Chinese writers who struggled to keep artists independent of political control, such as Hu Shih or Hu Feng, are not honoured or acknowledged by the museum has caused controversy. 'These seven cannot represent the best of Chinese literature,' argues Dai Qing, who has written extensively about intellectual freedom and the Communist Party. 'They are really cheating and misguiding the young children.' Hu Feng was savagely attacked in the 1950s as he struggled to assert freedom of opinion and campaigned to prevent Chinese writers being forced to labour as propaganda workers. His case opened the door to a wider persecution of intellectuals of all kinds well before the Cultural Revolution, which was directed against party loyalists. 'The trouble is writers like Lao She, Ba Jin and Bing Xin actively supported the party's political control over writers in the 1950s,' said Dai. Under pressure, Bing also retracted her support for a petition signed in 1989 by 30 writers calling for the release of political dissidents. However, Mr Shu denies that the museum only honours artists faithful to the party. 'We don't care whether he or she is a Communist or Nationalist Party member, or anything else,' he said. 'We basically preserve books and other records from writers regardless of what novels they have written, regardless of their political tendency and other things. We will keep all things in the museum for research purposes but for exhibitions we will choose only the best writers.' To qualify as a member of the official Chinese writers' association, and therefore to be recognised as part of Chinese literature, a writer has to have published three novels in Chinese. Including the 7,000 members of the All China Writers' Association, Mr Shu said he had a list of 40,000 writers. Despite this and the cost of the museum, some doubt Chinese literature is flourishing. Swedish academic Goeran Malmqvist, a member of the Swedish Academy which selected Gao Xingjian for the Nobel Literature Prize, recently said 'Chinese literature is dead on the mainland'.