Archaeology and politics in China: Historical paradigm and identity construction in museum exhibitions

Gideon Shelach-Lavi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In China, as in many other modern and contemporary states, the past is often used to inform public opinions and legitimate the political regime. This article examines two examples of archaeological exhibitions in China: at the National Museum of China (中国国家博物馆) in Beijing and the Liaoning Provincial Museum (辽宁省博物馆) in Shenyang. It discusses the development and change over time in the content of these archaeological exhibitions, the way they were organized and presented to the public, and the explanations that accompanied the prehistoric artefacts. I argue that the way the past, and in particular the distant, prehistoric and proto-historic past, is presented in Chinese museums reveals a process of entrenchment of the standardized narrative of Chinese history, with a powerful sense of connection and continuity between the past, no matter how distant, and the present. I also argue that although the general outline of the historical trajectory of the ‘Chinese civilization’ is universally accepted, small variations in the way it is presented and the different emphases of the two exhibitions can inform us about various ways of constructing local and national identities in China during the 20th century and up to the current time.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)23-45
Number of pages23
JournalChina Information
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • Beijing
  • Liaoning
  • archaeological museums
  • construction of identities
  • cultural policy
  • historical narratives


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