After an exhausting work week, a Nicky Romero concert, and a Kenzo after-party, my roommates and I were incredibly exhausted by Sunday. We had originally planned to visit the Forbidden City, but since we weren’t all quite 100%, we decided to take advantage of our passports and gain free access to the National Museum of China.

When I last visited Tian’anmen East station, I couldn’t figure out how to gain access to the museum. Perhaps it was because I had visited too late in the day to enter last time, but this time around all we needed was a quick run through security. The building was incredibly large, with columns, a piazza, steps, and barricades all around. The building seemed much institutionalized, but perhaps that was because it was indeed a governmental institution, aimed at tourists to highlight the greatness of Chinese history and culture.

As a design student, one of the most common assignments given to us is to go to a museum, find something interesting and draw inspiration from it. I’ve been to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at least ten times in my career at Drexel and always found inspiration from centuries of classical and modern art. Going to the Chinese Museum of History, however, was a completely different animal. The museum spanned literally thousands of years, from Paleolithic bones to contemporary architecture. Studying Chinese history in world history class in high school touched only a fraction of what the museum could offer me. My Taiwanese friend who tagged along with my roommates was also awestruck, even though she had grown up learning about Chinese history!

Inside the museum, we saw exquisite decorative jades, money from past dynasties (and even Western money from foreign trade in the 1700s!), and Buddhist art. But one of the most interesting exhibits was the Chinese calligraphy. Calligraphy really was an art form, because both writing and art was produced by the same brush. There were so many styles, from the almost type-faced calligraphy to the almost-lackadaisical brush strokes. Even though I didn’t understand anything, I still felt incredibly inspired by the fine penmanship of the scribes, some who, might I add, were everyday people and not even appointed scholars!

At the beginning of the exhibit was a bone etched with Chinese characters. My friend pointed out that it was one of the first examples of Chinese writing thousands of years ago, and that she could see how the characters on the bones were still connected to the characters of modern Chinese writing. We were all blown away by the fact that we were standing in front of something so old yet so relevant: the beginning of written Chinese thought and culture.

We were too tired to continue the trek through the rest of the museum, but we all left with a deep appreciation for Chinese history. While I am definitely proud of my heritage as an Vietnamese-American, I can’t imagine how incredibly proud Chinese people must feel of their thousands-year-old history.