Shu Yi, son of Chinese writer and playwright Lao She (1899-1966), greeted the first group of visitors to the bright lobby of the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature on May 23 - opening day.
The museum has some 300,000 manuscripts, translations, letters, diaries, photos, audio and video tapes, relics, books, magazines and newspaper clippings related to modern Chinese writers. The showrooms break down into three exhibitions on 20th-century writers of Chinese descent. The museum will add literature in the third phase of construction.
Chinese writers are celebrating this opening as a chance to share the spirit of modern Chinese literature with the public on home turf, said Shu, the museum's deputy director.
And for visitors, such as family of deceased artists, it almost was like coming home.
"I grew up drinking their milk," said 80-year-old Howard H.S. Chao, a Chinese-American scholar, referring to the writers and playwrights who rose to fame in the 1930s and whose names are displayed at the museum. "This museum is the fortress of the Chinese spirit."
"I know more about the writers whose works I read during my childhood," said Wang Meng, 66, a writer who became prominent in the 1950s.
Wen Jieruo stopped in the museum to review the showpieces at the study of her late husband, journalist and writer Xiao Qian (1909-99).
She could tell a story for every piece on display: Xiao's beloved bicycle he brought back from Europe after he finished his war correspondent assignment there in 1946; the old bookshelf they bought together in the 1950s; the pencil boxes Xiao made out of medicine wrappers; and the bottles of medicine that Xiao kept at his desk.
"In this study, he wrote a lot more in the past 20 years than he had done in the previous 50 years," Wen said.
The museum had an auspicious start. Bedridden for years in Shanghai, 96-year-old 20th-century literary master Ba Jin personally called on President Jiang Zemin to help in the building of the museum in 1993.
Ba said the museum's completion is the last major event in his life. He had dreamed of people looking at the exhibits, a dream that made him laugh with pleasure.
Auspicious did not always mean easy.
"It's been a daunting task to build the museum," said Zhou Haiying, son of writer Lu Xun (1881-1936).
But, Zhou said, "with the support of the families, all modern Chinese writers can leave not only their works but also their spirits and the places they created."
And there is no place like home.
"Although there are museums for individual writers across the country, I feel Ba Jin has made the right call for a big home of all Chinese writers," said Wen Jieruo. "Literary development after all needs the efforts of everybody."
(from China Daily)