While staying in Beijing, I made time to take a subway and visit the Chinese Military Museum. This spectacular building spans 60,000 square meters (196,850.39 square feet) and exhibits 5,000 years of Chinese military history on two four-story wings.
The first floor is devoted to the Second Revolutionary Civil War (1927-1937), the second floor to the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945) and the third floor to the Third Revolutionary Civil War (1945-1949). All types of militaria are displayed from tanks and jet planes to swords, firearms, uniforms, flags, and photographs.
This museum is a place where a person interested in military history could easily spend days studying exhibits. However, I only had a few hours before having to leave and had to make good use of my time. My wife attended the museum with me. Afterward, I asked for her perspective as a person not very interested in military history. She was impressed by the enormity of everything. Its colossal scale displayed reverence for China’s military culture in a way that is uniquely different from our museums.
As a Westerner, the museum was not difficult to navigate. All the signs were in Chinese and English and it was far from crowded.
Several observations were made while working my way through the exhibits:
1. There were a lot of captured Japanese militaria including weapons, shin-gunto swords, uniform pieces, and equipment. The pieces ranged in rarity and condition. Most had the look of being captured in the field. Overall, these were some of my favorite things to look at.
2. There were very little US militaria (other than weapons) considering China fought against the US in the Korean War. I saw one ground dug M1 helmet and had been told that there were captured Sherman tanks. However, they must have been in the outdoor hanger that was closed off for winter.
3. Items were exhibited differently from US museums I’ve visited. In US museums, the ratio of items displayed is typically 10 percent exhibited and 90 percent in storage. US museums typically select unique representations of items to display then store duplicates. In the Chinese Military Museum, there were countless multiples of unattributed, identical items on display. This may have been done because there was no shortage of square footage and it contributes to the magnitude of the exhibit. Many common items were in relic, or ground dug condition, which was interesting to see because only rare or old items are displayed in that condition in US museums.
4. Lighting was nonexistent in places, which is unusual for a museum.
5. The souvenir shop actually sold militaria as well as books, posters, and other military related items. Most of these items can be had in the United States for the same price or less. Many of the militaria items were post Vietnam War era Chi-Com uniform pieces and field gear. Many of the reference books were interesting, but I could not find any in English.
The Chinese Military Museum is an economical way to spend an afternoon with admission being only 20 yuan (US$4.80).
Chris Hughes is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in 20th century militaria and the owner of Rally Point Militaria and Vietnam Uniform – Military Collectibles sites.