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Visitor's Guide to the Tibet Culture Museum of China

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Visitor's Guide to the Tibet Culture Museum of China

A detail of the "Medicine Buddha" painted within the long thangka on the third second floor of the Tibetan Culture Museum in Xining.

© 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.

Introduction:

The city of Xining, capital of the region ethnic Tibetans call Amdo and called Qinghai in Mandarin, is a base for a lot of travelers to explore the beautiful scenery, Tibetan Buddhist sacred sites and national parks in the area. It's easy to plan your trip to take you out of the city each morning on day trips to places like the nearby Qinghai Lake, only to return to the city in the evening. But the Tibetan Culture Museum, also called the Tibetan Medicine Museum of China, is definitely worth a stop for a few hours.

Visitor Information:

  • Name in Mandarin: (to show taxi) 藏文化博物馆
  • Entry Fee: At the time of our visit, the entry was 80rmb for adults, children are free.
  • Hours of Operation: daily 9am-6pm
  • Address: 36 Jing'er Road, Xining

Facilities:

  • Bathrooms
  • Small book shop on 2nd floor
  • Gift shop selling traditional Tibetan medicinal items and jewelry on the B1 level

Museum Permanent Collections:

Ground Floor: The ground floor is dedicated to the tradition of Tibetan Medicine (藏医). There is a large room filled with ancient instruments used by traditional Tibetan healers. Showcased here are also a large collection of herbs and minerals used as traditional medicines. One interesting exhibit in this collection are documents, instruments and illustrations showing that ancient Tibetans had found a way to operate on the brain - or at least remove part of the skull - perhaps to help with head injuries.

The lobby is spacious and dominated by a large thangka painting featuring the blue medicine Buddha.

Second Floor: The second floor is dedicated entirely to the world's longest thangka painting (so claimed by the museum). The thangka painting is nearly 600 meters long and over 400 artisans worked on it for nearly 27 years. The subject matter covers Tibetan origin legends, gods and goddesses, the story of Buddha, folk stories, Tibetan medicine, famous Tibetan Buddhist scholars and spiritual leaders, landscapes and famous Tibetan Buddhist sites among others. The detail in the paintings is incredible and if you have the time and inclination, you could spend hours looking at each section.

I hoped to find a set of postcards or a book with pictures of the museum's thangka. Outside the exhibition room is a small bookshop selling three books with three different sets of various details of the thangka. I bought one focusing on religious figures. The explanations are all in Chinese but at least I can spend some more time looking at the individual painting sections in closer detail.

Basement Level: The basement is dedicated to the traditional lives of Tibetans. You can find exhibitions of a typical dwelling, models of the different costumes worn by Tibetans in different parts of Tibet and things they use in the home. I am always interested in ethnic costumes so I found the display quite interesting. The multicolored striped apron that Tibetan women from Lhasa wear over their black robes is not typical in other parts of Tibet, such as Amdo (Qinghai).

Of significant interest to my son was the exhibition here about the Tibetan war class. There are beautiful examples of weapons such as swords and shields as well as a diorama showing a mounted Tibetan warrior in full war regalia.

Taking Kids?:

When you approach the building, it looks so enormous you'll think you'll need to spend hours to see everything. However, the collections are relatively small and easy to go through so kids won't get bored. There is a lot of open space in which to run around and burn off extra energy and even if the kids aren't overly interested in the medicinal and thangka exhibits, they'll probably really enjoy the Tibetan culture exhibit in the basement.

One activity I gave my kids in the thangka exhibit (second floor) was to find things in the details of the paintings. My daughter was on the look out for pink bunnies while my son was given the task to find the war scenes.

There's a large square and park in the front of the museum so let your kids take some time before or after a visit to the museum to run around and let off steam.

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