Displaying one’s wealth has always been part of Chinese culture. The gates of the Forbidden City are huge and imposing, and the tall buildings in the Summer Palace and Beihai Park remind the onlooker that the ruler who built those beautiful imperial gardens was much more successful than them. In the Han Dynasty, kings and nobleman would be buried in a full-body shroud of precious jade to explain their wealth to the demons of the afterlife. In Qing courtyard houses, the height of the floor at the entrance determined the social status of the family. The larger the stride, the richer those who reside.
In the National Museum Of China, the Party and State Leaders Gift Show does a great job of displaying the wealth of China’s diplomatic relations. Here, a huge gallery exhibits treasures and masterpieces awarded to Chinese government officials by foreign representatives. The diversity of these treasures is incredible: Mongolian daggers, Buddhist statues, Nigerian wooden sculptures, replicas of Roman gods and art of the ancient Greeks, all have been presented as gifts to leaders of the PRC. To get lost in those paintings, potteries and pastiches is easy, as if all the culture of the world is present in that room. As if all the culture of the world is present in China.
The information boards describe the growing international success of the PRC over the last sixty years, leading us to believe that it all culminates with this. Just as a host of accessories can convince me that a stranger is a wealthy businessmen, a hall of trinkets can easily persuade me that China’s relationship with the rest of the world has always and will always flourish.