Fan Jianchuan’s Obsession

I visited the greatest museum of modern memorabilia in China, and spent an afternoon drinking tea with the founder.

“A large concrete star guards the entrance to Fan Jianchuan’s Educated Youth Museum in Anren, an hour outside of Chengdu. On each side of the star is a plaque, memorializing ten young women who burned to death in their dorm in 1971. The plaques show the school reports that all educated youth and Red Guards filled out before they were sent down to the countryside, stating their hometown, age, positive attributes, reason for joining the Party, as well as their own negative traits and areas for improvement. They’re all young girls, none over 18, and passionate about the Revolution.”

– “Fan Jianchuan’s Obession,” ChengduLiving, May 23, 2012

A few hours west of Chengdu, in the sleepy town of Anren, is the Jianchuan Museum Cluster: an incredible anomaly in a country that strictly controls the historical narrative and flow of information. Here, memorabilia from the Cultural Revolution and the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake are on full display, no punches pulled.

I managed to meet Fan Jianchuan, the private businessman and small-time politician-turned-artist/curator who started the cluster, and spend some time talking with him. He was both blunt and evasive regarding the views of the political higher-ups on his collection. For him, the focus was not on what the leaders thought, but what the people remembered, what they stored away, and what caches from the past they had hidden away in their homes.

The Earthquake exhibit in particular struck me. I was there when the earthquake struck and I spent many days in the affected zone, touring and reporting and translating. The exhibits he has are visceral, un-doctored, and pulled almost directly from the wreckage. It’s hard not to get emotional.

This is also an older story – almost a decade old as I write this post – but I include it here because my day with at the cluster with Fan Jianchuan left an indelible mark. I feel like his work is incredibly important, and perhaps not as recognized as it should be. If you ever find yourself in western China, I highly recommend you visit this place, and if you do, let me know in the comments what it looks like now.

Click here to read the full story, “Fan Jianchuan’s Obsession.”

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Sascha Matuszak

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