Memorials and museums never meant much to me. To be frank I found them boring. But that all changed when I visited the States.
When I received the schedule for my trip, the number of museums on it disappointed me. Like my friends, I wanted to go to department stores or parks. Reluctant and uninterested, I followed my group to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Yet walking into the hall, I was immediately impressed by the solemn atmosphere and quietness. As I walked around, I found that every visitor was looking carefully through the pictures and reading every information panel intently and seriously. This scene surprised me a lot.
I recalled my experiences of visiting museums in China. Mostly there’d be just a few visitors walking around the museum’s hall and a tour guide would be offering a boring commentary from prepared notes.
I wondered why it was so different here to what I knew in China.
YAs I started to look around the museum, I thought I could see the reason. The methods to introduce the history were versatile and distinctive, including movies, speeches and reproduced reality by using 3-D technology. There was so much information there that I’d never heard before. The tour guides – German students studying in the States – answered all my questions.
But back in China, as I thought more about it, I began to see a more important difference between our museums and theirs.
I began to realize the key issue is a huge cultural difference between Chinese and Western politics. Westerners are open to their past, accepting both bad and good things. They’re free to discuss it in class or in public. China’s government, on the other hand, hides parts of history that might bring ‘shame’ on China or are too bloody to be known. Thus there is a lot that Chinese history teachers don’t talk about in class. And so a decreasing number of Chinese people - especially students - are aware of the importance of that history.
That’s when the seed of changing the situation in China was planted in my heart.
When I heard a museum near where I live was looking for volunteer guides, I registered without hesitation. This was a museum on the life of a revolutionary martyr. Located in a park, most visitors were the elderly and some young children. After an interview, I became leader of my volunteer group. One of my jobs was to write commentaries for the picture exhibition. I studied the relevant details in many books, researched online, and used my own words to connect the story of the pictures. I used the pictures as the main line to connect all the other facts. And of course I added details that would not usually be mentioned.
As I guided visitors through the museum, instead of looking around causally they started to listen to me more intently and ask questions. I really felt they ‘connected’ with the displays because I had brought that difficult time in China’s history to life.
I want China’s younger generation to understand the nation’s history, good and bad. China’s recent past has many positive things in it, but we mustn’t hide away the negative things. I’m just a regular student, and I know I cannot do much to change China’s political environment. But what I can do is to inspire more of my fellow people to pursue what the government hides from us. The past may be shameful or painful, but we need to be informed.
That’s why I want to be a sociologist, exploring not only history but also social problems and revealing them to the public. That’s how I can contribute to society. From my volunteer experience, I know that though it may take a long time, making China’s museums as appealing as American ones and making China’s people more open to the past is not merely a daydream.