• Exhibition of the Life Story of Zeng Zhaoyu as a Master of Relics & Museology
  • Source:Nanjing Museum | Release Time:2013-11-01
  • Details

    Zeng Zhaoyu (February 3, 1909 - December 22, 1964), a famous archaeologist and museologist, selflessly devotes her life to Chinese relics and museology undertakings, and makes pioneering contribution to development of the museum construction and archaeological work inChina.

    Zeng Zhaoyu was born in "Wanyitang" of Hetang Town, Xiangxiang County (now Shuangfeng County) Hunan. Zeng Guohuang, her great grandfather, is Zeng Guofan's fourth younger brother, her grandfather is Zeng Jieshi, her father is Zeng Guangzuo (also named as Yongzhou) and her mother is Chen Xiuying. She ranks third in her seven brothers and sisters. In her teenager period, the family influence helps her to lay a profound foundation in ancient Chinese literature. Zeng Zhaoyu is good at writing poetry and lyrics, which is previously little-known. In early childhood, relying on her "talent in poetry and lyrics writing," she created abundant poems and essays most of which have been lost. Her writing is mainly about her reading experience, visit of mountains and rivers, ideas exchanged with friends and sudden inspiration. Her writings are rarely published.

    In 1923, Zeng Zhaoyu studied in Changsha Yifang Middle School. The principal Zeng Baosun, Zeng Guofan's great granddaughter, is the earliest one studying in western world and devoting to the educational cause, and she influences the whole life of Zeng Zhaoyu with a view that the one who gets married can only serve one family, while the one who keeps single can serve more people. Zeng Zhaoyu transforms this idea into action. In 1950s, a Soviet expert kindly asked: "when will Miss Zeng get married?" she answered meaningfully, "I have married museum."

    In 1929, Zeng Zhaoyu was admitted by Chinese Department of Centre College with her high score, and then she transferred to the Ancient Chinese Literature Institute of Jinling University for further studies. Her hard working, strong ability of reflection and her excellent character and learning results gained heavy attention investment of Hu Xiaoshi, a famous calligrapher and professor. After graduating in 1933, she taught Chinese in the middle school affiliated to Jinling University. 

    In 1935, she specialized in archaeology at her own expense, in the Research Institute of University of London, then obtained master's degree in 1937 and went to Berlin National Museum for practice, then participated in archaeological excavation in Berlin area, and worked as assistant in archaeology study in the University of London. 

    Upon the outbreak of Anti-Japanese war, she returned toChina. In 1939 February, she was employed as special designer by the National Museum’s Preparatory Office (NMPO), then as Deputy Director General and Director General successively. From then on, she devoted her lifelong energy to museum and archaeological studies. While studying in the UK, she carefully gathered the materials about Chinese bronzes lost overseas, and her graduation thesis "Chinese bronze brass’ inscriptions and patterns" completed in 1937 was highly praised by the British scholars, and she received master's degree in University of London. Later, she completed the thesis of "On Chinese jewelry system from Zhou Dynasty to Han Dynasty" and "Museum" which was published in Chongqing in 1943 July. "Museum", known as early basic theory system of museum, presents four functions of a museum, for collection, for scientific research, for physical education and for spiritual education, and it systematically explains its functions in collection, conservation, research, display and education, this works has exerted far-reaching influence on the Chinese museum construction and development.

         Zeng Zhaoyu established her ambition to devote to museum early in her study abroad, so she paid much attention to advanced western museology concept and the specific implementation measures, conduct research and investigation on and on, and the corresponding crystallization "Museum" offered reference for her future career in museum. Since 1941, she served successively as the Deputy Director General and Director General in NMPO, responsible for the daily work. During the Anti-Japanese War period, the NMPO moved southwest, and, under difficult conditions, she planed exhibitions of artifacts and conducted publicity and education to the masses, while she also engaged archaeological excavations and national survey. She participated in the survey and excavation of Han Dynasty tombs in cliff in Yunnan Dali Cangshan and Erhai as well as Sichuan Pengshan, and made plans for the survey and collection of the cultural relics in Sichuan Kangding and Yunnan. In 1942, the "Report on archaeological studies of Yunnan Cangshan and Erhai" (including volume I and II which was written by her) jointly created by her and Wu Jinding was published, which opened a new page of Yunnan ancient history, and laid foundation for future research on ancient history of the area. After the victory of Anti-Japanese War, the NM moved back to Nanjing, and, with extreme difficulty, she strived for the restoration and launched "Han Dynasty relic exhibition" and "Bronzes Collection Exhibition". In the spring of 1948, 1st-project of Nanjing Museum’s History hall completed, and Nanjing Museum organized a large-scale exhibition of cultural relics jointly with the Imperial Palace Museum, winning various attention and praise.

    After 1949, she served successively as Executive Vice Director and Director of Nanjing Museum, then member of 2nd CPPCC, 3rd National People's Congress (NPC), the National Women's Federation, and Archaeological Research School of Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute, and Deputy Director of Jiangsu Province Cultural Relics Management Committee, Vice Chairman of Jiangsu Province Philosophy & Social Science Association and Jiangsu Provincial Women's Federation, member of Shanghai Cultural Relics Preservation Committee.

    Zeng Zhaoyu attached great importance to ethnic folklore. In 1950s, she has presided over survey of She nationality in Zhejiang and that of Hans nationality in Jiangsu, covering all aspects of production and life, especially the development history of Jiangsu’s modern silk industry, clock industry, salt industry, fishery, brocade industry and handicraft industry, which provides new perspective for scientific research and exhibition. She also paid great attention to cultural relics collection, especially that of painting and calligraphy. The former NM’s collection of 24 boxes of 647 precious paintings and calligraphies were shipped toTaiwan. From 1950 to 1960, thanks to her attention and the joint efforts of relevant experts, more than 38000 pieces of ancient calligraphies and paintings were collected, including boutiques of Song and Yuan Dynasties and Ming and Qing Dynasties, as well as many masterpieces of "Wu School", "Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou", "Jinling Eight Masters", "Shanghai Picture Faction", then identified by Zhang Heng, Han Shenxian and Xie Zhiliu, so that Nanjing Museum’s collection of calligraphies and paintings ranked in third in quality throughout China.


    Exhibition is another important function of

    of museum. It is related to the specific implementation of social education, therefore, Zeng Zhaoyu personally made planning and reviewed the display outline of all large or small exhibitions, even personally reviewed and revised caption. Since 1950, Nanjing Museum has held several national exhibitions including the "Exhibition of social history development", "Exhibition about the primitive society" and "Exhibition of Chinese historical relics" as well as many local chronicles exhibitions such as "Exhibition of Jiangsu cultural relics" and "Exhibition about Jiangsu history". The contents of exhibition were repeatedly modified, and reviewed by experts, followed by pre-exhibition, and all procedures of content to form were conducted perfectly. 

    Zeng Zhaoyu also put forward many new ideas on the development of museum, presided over the formulation of "Nanjing Museum’s twelve-year planning", and proposed comprehensive planning of archaeology, folk custom, exhibition, collection and research, and training of talents. She founded the "Friends of museums" which then has become the bridge between museum and audiences and has been widely adopted inChina. She emphasized the importance of foreign friend reception, so she established Foreign expert reception team, as the head and interpreter in person, actively spreading Chinese historical cultures. She also invited domestic and foreign well-known experts and scholars for lecture, to improve the museum staffs’ serving ability.  

    Scientific research is the main function and soul of museum. In 1950s and 1960s, Nanjing Museum’s scientific research achievements emerged like bamboo shoots after spring rain thanks to her brilliant leadership and her careful review of all important archaeological report or antique catalog before the publish. She participated in the excavation of two mausoleums of southern Tang Dynasty and wrote "Two mausoleums of southern Tang Dynasty" which is still an indispensable reference book for research on the history of southern Tang Dynasty nowadays. "Report of Yinan’s ancient stone figure and tomb excavation" discusses the features of unearthed portraits, institutions, figures’ dress, dance, music drama and the historical changes, thus it wins domestic and international academic praise. Based on the large number of archaeological investigations, she, with Yin Huanzhang, wrote "On Hushu culture" and "Two questions about Jiangsu ancient history" which overall summarize archaeological study of Jiangsu and indicates the new achievements of Nanjing Museum’s archaeological study. She kept single all her life for the cause, devoted all her life to the archaeology and museum, and made outstanding contributions on the excavation and protection of Chinese cultural relics. (Reported by Nanjing Museum’s Scholar Series Editor Committee)


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