The Nantong Museum, founded by the national industrialist Zhang Qian on January 14, 1905 in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is a local comprehensive museum of China. The Museum, located at Nantong City of Jiangsu Province, is the extant earliest museum so far founded by the Chinese.
On January 3, 1906 in the Qing Dynasty, Zhang Qian planned to turn the public botanic garden under construction into a museum, covering an area of 23,300 square meters initially and then expanded into 71,800 square meters. It is composed of the Middle Hall, the Southern Hall, the Northern Building and the Eastern Building, consisting of four exhibition halls to display the relics and samples of nature, history, fine arts and education. The Middle Hall is a single-storeyed three-roomed house in the Chinese architectural style with a penthouse; the Southern Hall is a two-storeyed house in the shape of "Í¹" in the Western architectural style; the Northern Building is a two-storeyed five-roomed building in the Chinese architectural style; and the Eastern Building is a multistory house in the Chinese architectural style. The Museum is a garden building not only with trees, flowers and plants planted but also with birds and animals raised in addition to the pavilion, waterside pavilion, rockworks, and lotus pond.
The relics and samples collected in the Museum were donated or sold by personages or Buddhist temples all over China. According to the List of Collections of Nantong Museum published in 1914, the relics and samples collected by the Museum amounted to 2,973 items. The figure increased to 3,605 in 1933.
Exhibits of nature are animals and plants, either alive or in sample or fossil, and minerals. The animal samples include the Bird of Paradise from Nanyang Islands (an old name for the Malay Archipelago, the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia or for Southeast Asia), the crocodile from India, the kangaroo and hummingbird from America, and other animal samples from Russia, Korea and Singapore. The plant samples include the fern fossil, various kinds of fruit trees and medical herbs. The mineral samples include those donated by the various provinces of China at the closing of the Nanyang Fair sponsored jointly by the government and merchants at the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1910.
Exhibits of history are gold, jade, ceramics, rubbings, civil engineering, vehicles, portraits, fortune-telling, weaponry, instruments of torture, and articles used in prison. Exhibits of fine arts are painting and calligraphy, carving, lacquerware, embroidery, Kesi (a type of weaving done in fine silks and gold thread by the tapestry method) artworks, woven articles and stationary. The masterpieces of the arts and crafts are 12 scrolls of Chinese character embroidery and the embroidery of Jesus Christ. Exhibits of education are the imperial examinations, old-style private school and modern school; the paper for imperial examinations and the notes smuggled into the examination hall; and the teaching aid and moulds used in the modern school.
On March 17, 1938, the aggressive Japanese army occupied Nantong. Most of the relics and samples collected in Nantong Museum were plundered, destroyed or lost. During the period of the KMT regime from September 1945 to January 1949, the Museum still suffered from destruction. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the People's Government started to restore the Museum. In 1951, the original features of the buildings and garden were maintained. In 1981, the People's Government of Nantong City decided to encircle the nearby villa, the former residence of Zhang Qian, into the sphere of Nantong Museum. In 1982, it was listed as one of the historical sites under the protection of Jiangsu Province. In 1988, it was listed as one of the major historical sites under the state protection.
By the end of 1989, Nantong Museum had collected 40,115 items, of which 6,126 are natural samples and 55 are Class One relics. The collections feature the local characteristics such as the stone artifacts, pottery, jade objects and bone objects unearthed at the former site of the Neolithic Age,the tools for making salt by boiling seawater from the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), and the celadon pot in the shape of leather bag (a copy of the leather bag used by the nomadic tribes for holding water) from the late Tang Dynasty (827-907) unearthed in 1973 in Nantong City. The porcelain mortar with the inscription of Chen Ruoxu, used for pounding medicine, belonged to the renowned medical doctor Chen Ruoxu of Nantong during 1573-1620 in the Ming Dynasty. Among the artworks of painting, calligraphy and embroidery are the paintings of Li Fangying, a native of Nantong and one of the well-known Yangzhou Eight Schools, and the embroideries of Shen Shou, a famous modern embroidery handicraftsman. Among the revolutionary relics are documents, manuscript, weapons and the things left behind by the martyrs during the Anti-Japanese War. The Museum covers an area of 450 square meters divided into three basic exhibitions: the historical relics, the revolutionary relics and natural samples.
The exhibits of historical relics on display cover the period from the primitive society to the end of the Qing Dynasty, including the earlier collections of the Museum, such as Chunyu (an ancient bronze musical instrument) from the Warring States Period (475-221BC), the bronze drum from the Han Dynasty, the celadon stove of the Longquan kiln from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the white porcelain pillow of the Cizhou kiln from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and the cotton fabric unearthed from the tomb of the Ming Dynasty. Among the modern relics are Zhang Qian's original handwriting, documents, objects and pictures related to his founding of Dasheng Cotton Mill, salt reclamation, and the cultural and educational undertakings. The last part of the exhibition of historical relics is the life story of Bai Yayu (a native of Nantong and teacher of Li Dazhao), a martyr of the 1911 Revolution holding the post of Chief of Staff of the Northern Revolutionary Army. The revolutionary relics on display reflect the process of the revolutionary struggles of the Nantong people during the various historical periods from the May 4th Movement in 1919 to the December 9th Movement, the Anti-Japanese War and the Liberation War. Among the revolutionary relics are the newspaper Populace Voice founded by Wu Yalu, who joined the CPC in 1922, the flag of the CPC during the period of Agrarian Revolution, the historical documents, certificates and weapons during the struggle of Anti-Japanese War. Among the natural samples on display are the fossil of the baleen whale, the skeleton of the modern whale, and the samples of the local rare birds and insects.
Over the years, the Nantong Museum has held several temporary exhibitions, such as the Life Story of Revolutionary Martyrs, the Relics of Anti-Japanese Struggles, the Folk Custom Objects and Take Good Care of Birds.