Beijing might have the National Museum and the Forbidden Palace, which is an entire palace that serves as a museum, but being such a historic and grand city, it also deserves to have an impressive museum dedicated solely to it. The Capital Museum is exactly that.
Located in Xicheng, it is in a large gray rectangular building that doesn’t given much indication about the historical treasures and fantastic displays inside. This building has only been open from 2006, before that the museum was located elsewhere.
Inside the museum’s large open interior, on one side are the main exhibits which are several floors. On the other corner is a green multi-level cylindrical structure that houses more exhibits, coated in what seems to be green jade tiles. Indeed jade is what it features inside, as well as calligraphy and paintings. I didn’t go into this structure on my only visit so I can’t describe what’s in it.
The museum features exhibits on the history of Beijing, including weapons, coins, and other imperial artifacts, as well as calligraphy, pottery, and bronzes. That’s to be expected and it’s nice, but there are cooler things, such as the most (only) erotic Buddhist statues I’ve ever come across.
An array of iron and bronze tools, pottery and other artifacts from the Tang and Sui Dynasties.
The Buddhist exhibit features various statues, many of Tibetan origin, including multi-armed female deities and fierce gods riding dragons, but the ones I remember are the Buddhist gods holding naked females, and engaged in standing copulation and even fellatio.
Then there were crazy non-sexual ones such as dancing demon-faced figures and a multi-armed demon riding a dragon (see below).
Of course, sexually explicit statues are not the only thing memorable in the museum.
For instance, there’re coffins belonging to a Jin Dynasty emperor and empress in an open vault; though I’m not sure if the actual bodies are also in there.
On the top floor, there’s an impressive mock hutong neighborhood, with the “homes” featuring exhibits showcasing the folk customs and daily life of old Beijingers, from weddings to funerals, as well as art pieces.
It’s very nice, and it’s also unique. This is something that many Chinese museums, even good ones such as the Xian and Nanjing museums, don’t do well or have – exhibits that are colorful and interactive, combining photos, artifacts, videos and sound recording as well as life-size settings, all in a modern environment. Chinese museums tend to focus strictly on history but neglect contemporary history and interactive aspects.
The basement features more exhibits, usually special temporary ones. When I went, the special exhibit was about ancient peoples and kingdoms in the northeast, including the Tungur people, the predecessor of the Manchu, and the Jin Dynasty, who ruled parts of Northern China in the 12th century and established their capital in Beijing.
The Capital Museum is yet another of those Beijing sights that don’t get much attention, but is quite impressive. It’s located in Xicheng district, near Muxidi subway station on line 1.
Basement exhibition on Northern kingdoms.