A Chinese farmer who is also an avid newspaper collector is helping his fellow farmers learn about the world with an exhibition of over 1 million newspapers he has collected since his youth.
More than 1.1 million copies of 60,000 Chinese and foreign newspapers are shown in 11 sections of pre-New China, minorities, cultural revolution, overseas and Hong Kong-Macao-Taiwan.
The exhibition was organized by 48-year-old farmer Miao Shiming, who has been collecting newspapers for 30 years, in the ancient city of Pingyao, north China's Shanxi Province.
The earliest newspaper was Shanghai-published Shenbao in 1872. The shortest lived newspaper featured is Xibao which was the first and final publication.
The longest lived publication is Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao, which has a history of 101 years. The rarest was a silk newspaper marking the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
"I am a common Chinese farmer. It was the newspaper that gave me knowledge and enlarged my horizons. So I want to help more farmers learn about the world through my collection," said Miao.
Miao recalled that newspapers were hard to get in the countryside in his teenage years. He used to borrow them from the village library and copy the articles, filling hundreds of notebooks.
As life in the countryside improved, Miao was able to gather more newspapers and began his collection. At first it was just a personal hobby, but a friend working at the Shanxi Daily suggested he extend the collection after seeing some of his rare newspapers.
In 1998, Miao set up a newspaper "show room" at his home, which was visited by many noted people in the province. However, only a small part of his collection was shown, while the rest was stored on shelves. So he decided to build a bigger hall for the farmers.
Covering an area of 1,500 square meters, the new exhibition hall cost more than 2 million yuan (US$244,000), paid for by the local tourism bureau. It is now listed on the tourist routes in the city.
"It is a part of the province's culture and should be developed," said Shen Weizhen, director of the provincial publicity department.
Miao's exhibition set an example for China's 60-odd newspaper museums with its successful combination of social and economic effects, said Ma Zhenyu, an official with the Chinese Newspaper Association. He said Miao had been selected as the province's "outstanding citizen", a member of the Chinese Collector Association, and deputy head of the tourism bureau of Zuoquan County.
China has a rural population of 900 million. In the past, most farmers were occupied with hard labor in the fields and did not have the chance to learn of the outside world.
According to UNESCO figures, 15.9 percent of the Chinese mainland adult population is illiterate. About 250 million Chinese people are illiterate or semi-literate and over 500 million people did not read newspapers, most of whom were farmers.
(Xinhua News Agency December 25, 2003)