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Historical Museum of Jiangnan Gongyuan



Before introducing this museum, it is quite necessary to explain what are Chinese Keju, Gongyuan and Jiangnan, because they are closely connected with your understanding on the greatness of this museum in China.

Keju(科举),in ancient China, it was a destiny-decided event that absolutely organized by government. Specifically, Keju is a nationwide check or imperial examination for selecting the talents and meanwhile changes a massive of examinees’ fate and future. Hence, traditionally, Keju is a most-influential event cared by majority of the public who longed to change their life. Hence Keju or Imperial Examination regularly held in ancient China was a big event related to every family in China. The winners or passers of such a nationwide imperial examination would feel incomparably honored, and even luckily, they could be rewarded by Emperor. Traditionally, it was the biggest fame and unsurpassed reputation to their families, friends and relatives. It is surely a long-standing social motion and educational mechanism, even a unique oriental cultural phenomenon. So visiting such a kind of museum would be perfectly helpful to understand the lifestyle and the spotlights of ancient people in China.

Gongyuan(贡院), an exclusive term used to be the special place only for imperial examination, examinees entered this building complex could not come out until the end of examination, which generally would last several days, and their sleeping, eating and preparation of these examinees amid examination would be taken here. Anciently, Gongyuan was a forbidden area that the common people were improbably entered there except the examinees during examination. So, in ordinary people’s eyes, Gongyuan was sacred and mysterious. This is an important reason that why people considered the imperial examination as a life turning-point as the examinees enter this special zone. Gongyuan also represents the superiority and lifelong wealth.

Jiangnan(江南) , a special geographical and cultural term largely used both in cultural life and ordinary life. Jiangnan explained in the way of geography means the area including Shanghai, South Jiangsu province, North Zhejiang Province and some part of Anhui province. In academy, people generally consider it as the Yangtze River Delta, which is the last section of downstream section of Yangtze River. The famous cities it including are Nanjing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Huzhou, Changzhou, Zhenjiang and others. In the aspect of culture, Jiangnan is a term meaning an elegant and literary area which exceeds the limit of geographical influence. Jiangnan is a popular word largely used among scholars and learners. Jiangnan lifestyle is represented typically by Suzhou and Hangzhou lives, where are both the center of Chinese traditional culture, especially the high-level cultural life. So in China, its cultural power is quite stronger than its function in geography. Jiangnan, in brief, means Cultural Elegance.

Historical Museum of Jiangnan Gongyuan located Jingling Road 1, Nanjing, is China’s first themed museum thoroughly reflecting Chinese ancient Keju Examination or Imperial Examination. Historical Museum of Jiangnan Gongyuan was initially established in 1168, when China was under the reign of South Song Dynasty. After the continual extension in different periods, Gongyuan in late Qing Dynasty developed to be a considerably large scale, and only the number of examinees’ rooms is 20,644, which at that time was as large as Beijing Shuntian Gongyuan. Both of these two Gongyuan were considered to be Two Tops across China. The Mingyuan Tower built in Ming Dynasty and well preserved in Gongyuan currently plays the role of Display Hall. There are 22 themed stone steles of Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and The Republic of China displayed in the interiority, exteriority, east side and west side of this tower. Currently Mingyuan Tower is listed into the cultural relics under the provincial-level protection. These steles offer the rare real materials for researching the history of Chinese Keju as well as the historical development of Jiangnan Gongyuan.

The original examinees’ rooms all broke down in some historical disasters. Nowadays, just more than 40 rooms have been reconstructed--- 20 rooms in east side are ranked following the title s of Study(学), Excellence(优), Ascending (登)and Official(仕),each title is comprised of five rooms. The titles of these rooms purposefully release a classic thinking of Confucianism---People who study wonderfully are qualified to be the governmental officials(学而优则仕), which was a golden rule followed both by government and learning people. The examiners show this thinking here for encouraging the examinees and the learning people under the heaven, meanwhile tell the low-status people that people can change their life through this place. They are the place for local examination before imperial examination of Jiangnan. Tourists at home and abroad can wear the ancient examinees’ garments and enter the room for an examination try. 20 rooms in the west side (three of them are the passages) is classified into four titles as well, which are Xi(席), She(设), Si(肆), Yan(筵), and in each room, there is a clay-made colored figure themed with examinee. These figures are life-like and attractive too much.

This is a brief illustration of Historical Museum of Jiangnan Gongyuan. If you plan to visit it, the information above surely will be helpful.

Transportation: taking bus 1、2、4、7、30、31、40、44、47 and 304
Opening time: 8:30-21:30


Writer: David from Seeraa International
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