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Lively view of Chinese craft, culture


Upon entering the China exhibit, found on two levels of the Museum of Science, one is struck by the sight of an enormous two-man loom, mesmerized by the sight of two Chinese men deeply absorbed [it0]

in the intricate assemblage of wood, cotton threads and small sections of bamboo holding the threads in place.

The master, one of only a handful still practicing this ancient craft, shuttles the silk at the bottom of the loom. While his assistant pulls the strings at the top, an admiring crowd looks on.

The men breathe life into a symbol of an ancient culture.

The visitor to this exhibit may also witness demonstrations of paper making, wood-block printing, clay figurine making and double-sided embroidery. Double-sided embroidery produces a design on a silk mesh which can be reversed to produce a different picture.

In watching two women who work with invisible threads, one discovers the care and patience demanded of practitioners of this art. Progress is slow and painstaking. The designs they work on were started over eighteen months ago so that the pictures would be well-developed by the time they reached American eyes.

The displays about medicine give one an idea of just how advanced early Chinese science was. A description tells of training methods used to teach doctors how to perform acupuncture (which dates from as early as 493 B.C.) and describes the techniques in use both in ancient times and currently.

The copper model to the left as one enters the second room was used for testing the student's knowledge of needle placement. It would be covered with wax and filled with water or mercury; if he put the needles -- which ranged from minute to gigantic and from gold to steel -- in the right places the liquid would escape slowly.

The Chinese believed that the best way to cure disease was to prevent it by maintaining the proper balance between yin and yang. Acupuncture serves to reduce an excess of yang; an overdose of yin calls for moxibustion -- the burning of cones of small dried herbs on the skin.

A variety of herbal remedies are hidden in the doors of the huge cabinet in the same room. The visitor opens drawers that reveal interesting smells together with information on the dosage to be administered and the effects it would have on the metabolism. Cataloging of herbs and plants was started in the first century B.C. -- with 365 medications on the list -- and has been expanding ever since.

The Daoist concern for long life extended to an insistence on high standards of personal hygiene. Massage, exercise and fasting were part of the routine too. Information is provided on the techniques of today's Chinese doctors. The links with past practice are clear; the sequence of development gives a vivid impression of the differences between Chinese society and the Western world.

The greatest entertainment of the exhibition comes from a copper wash basin. Stroking it in the right places makes the water in it bubble and splash; the basin hums as if in encouragement. If you can find an experienced person ask for a demonstration.

The Chinese wrote on materials ranging from bamboo sticks strung together and animal bones to bamboo paper. One can watch a demonstration of bamboo paper manufacture as well as an exhibit telling the history of Chinese calligraphy. A program running on a cluster of Apple computers underlines the differences between Western phonetics and the Chinese pictographs.

Guides are available to provide information on most of the displays of craftmanship. Those with yellow ribbons below their badges speak Chinese and act as interpreters between visitors and the artisans at work. The descriptions provided on panels throughout the exhibition are also a major asset. The Museum of Science is briefly housing a great treasure: Don't miss it.

David Waldes->