Great great Grandpa’s museum

镇海口海防历史纪念馆 Zhenhai Coast Defense History Museum; opened Oct 1997; reopened Sept 2011.
Zhenhai (Ningbo)

To honor Liu Bingzhang‘s legacy and celebrate the rare triumph he extracted out of a great power in Qing Dynasty.
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The drive from Shanghai to Ningbo was about 3 hours and I slept most of the way. So I missed the 22 miles long Hangzhou Bay Bridge completely. As soon as we hit the town, the back wheel was out. The driver stopped a taxi with a passenger sitting in the front to take me to the hotel. First I thought they were friends or knew each other but after the driver dropped her off he casually commented on her status:
Mistress.
I wondered how did he know .. then we pulled into the circular drive at the Sheraton.

My first business of the day was visiting the museum. I took a taxi. It’s about 30 minutes ride. The driver offered me a round trip deal for RMB180 yuan (about US$30 at exchange rate of 6). I took it because probably I had to since there wasn’t any taxi at the museum. It was early afternoon, the drive was smooth without traffic. Streets were relatively clean. The city is being developed but the flat landscapes was not dotted by cranes. We passed the Ningbo University. The drive mentioned it’s founded by their native son Bao Yugang (Sir Yue-Kong Pao 包玉钢). I looked it up on Wiki:

Ningbo University was established in 1986 by the donation of Yue-Kong Pao. Other major benefactors include Sir Run-run Shaw, Sir Chao An Chung (赵安中) , Sir Hans Tang, Sir Yue-shu Pao (包玉书), Sir Cao Guangbiao (曹光彪), Sir Li Dashan (李达三), Sir Zhu Yinglong (朱英龙).

(Just so .. YK Pao was knighted too .. It should be Sir Yue-Kong Pao)
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The museum sits by a bay and nests by a small hill, very tranquil. The admission is free but I have to changed out of my sandals into a pair of public shoes. I asked if I could go bare foot, the two girls gave me a mean look.

Very sorry GG Grandpa. I didn’t mean disrespect.

The museum had no air conditioning. Viceroy Liu Bingzhang (Popo ‘s 爷爷 grandpa) sits majestically in a glassed-in space, a feather fan in hand, is flanked by a pair couplets and a birthday well wish from Cixi. He looks rather diminutive and bookish which he was, a 进士 jinshi, the most prestigious degree in the imperial China that was conferred by the reign Emperor triennially. He ranked 11thout of the 189 successful candidates that Emperor Xianfeng 咸豐 handed out in 1860 aimed a population of more than 400 million souls. If one thinks getting into Harvard is tough, think again.

There were pictures documenting the remnants of the war. And there are the set of 13 绢本工笔 silk scroll exquisite brush paintings 《文庄公甲申浙东海防图》 discovered in the basement of Anhui Museum in Hefei in 2005. The quality of photos were poor due to enclosed glass cases displaying the reproductions. Hope one day soon I’ll be visiting Hefei to see the originals (and take better pix!).

In China literary excellence is the passport to all high posts; and an Oxford first-class man would be expected to go out to war and, sitting in a tent or driving along in a carriage with paper and pencil, to be able to direct Lord Kitchener or any other mere general as to tactics as well as strategy1.

The Sino-French War of 1884-5 is little known and controversial. Although a bookworm, Liu managed to extract a win – the only victory – out of the Great Powers. Never mind that China eventually lost the war. In June 1996 the government began building this museum.

I’ve dealt with this museum in the past and offered to fine tune their English. It’s just perplexed to see they didn’t care to do a decent research .. at least getting the French admiral’s name right: It’s Courbet not Gu Ba!

The little gift shop was unmanned. Perhaps the shop keeper was busy chatting elsewhere. On the 捐资碑 Donors’ Stele, I found uncle 刘耋龄 Liu Dieling and 刘恒龄 Liu Hengling, RMB10,000 yuan each. Me being there was a triumph itself, but that’s another story for another time.
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PS .. the museum is closed since Dec 8, 2010 for renovation and will reopen on August 1, 2011.
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1Li Hung-Chang: His Life and Times; Alicia Little (1845-1926); Cassell & Company, 1903

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