Hu Xiaorong: A Promoter of Culture

Authors: Hellochengdu


Guides or docents play an essential role in the operation of a museum. Telling the facts about history is not an easy task. Hu Xiaorong, who never studied history or archeology before, is now a highly respected docent at the Chengdu Jinsha Site Museum.
The ruins of the ancient city in the Kingdom of Shu (Sichuan), the center of the ancient civilization in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River from the 12th century B.C. to the 7th century B.C. (about 2,600-3,200 years ago), were discovered at the Jinsha Site in Chengdu in February 2001. It was the first major archaeological discovery in the 21st century in China, and the most important finding after Sanxingdui in Sichuan, an archaeological site dating back to the Bronze Age. It helps us piece together a lost episode of history and conjure up the glory of the ancient Kingdom of Shu.
A golden mask unearthed from Jinsha Site
Hu started to take up the job in the 1980s. What does a museum docent do? She has spent decades looking for the answer.
Words Used to Narrate History
Hu Xiaorong has been a museum docent for 35 years. The Chengdu Museum was open in Daci Temple in 1984, and Hu, a drama actress for 15 years, was hired as one of the first docents for the museum. At first, she had no idea about the occupation, but she was already an articulate speaker. After the Jinsha Site was excavated in 2001, Hu became its first docent and developed her own style there.
In the very beginning, even experts and scholars needed to make efforts to research and verify relevant historical facts of the mysterious ancient Shu civilization at the Jinsha site. Hu Xiaorong could only describe the appearances of the cultural relics there. "I even couldn't recognize many Chinese characters describing the articles at that time," said Hu. The museum was built on the archaeological site bit by bit, and Hu always told visitors the heights, widths and shapes of the relics repeatedly every day. In her narrations, they were just figures and shapes. Hu gradually lost interest in the way of narration, and started to think over what a docent should say and how to convey the useful information to the audience.
"History is about the past, but what does it leave to us? No one could understand what the cultural relics mean based just on the simple information on their sizes and shapes. For me, history should prompt us to ponder: What made this city what it is today?"
Besides basic information, she would say, "Chengdu was and is great. It has never changed its name and relocated for 3,000 years. Boasting a long history and countless stories, it is amazing with happy and open-minded people." She would note that "the old meets the new, and tradition meets modernity in Jinsha - the buildings here are modern, but the cultural relics are old, which initiates a dialogue between the past and the present."
In her narrations, the great history has an intimate connection with personal emotions. "We can make history come alive. How to revive the cultural relics? "In our words," Hu said.
Looking back at the History 3,000 Years Later
People call Hu Xiaorong Madame Hu. She always pulls her hair back and ties it in a knot behind her head, and wears a shiny pair of earrings with the pattern of sun bird, which shows her career at the museum.
66 years old, Hu has kept more than forty notebooks used in the past more than ten years, during which she served as a docent for 7,000 batches of visitors. She is always full of emotion and excited to shed tears when she talks about the culture of the ancient Shu. In the museum, she could always arrest the attention of the audience.
In many people's eyes, museums are a place where people feel disconnected from reality and others, and it's rare to see a docent with such an emotional style. Hu said, "with true emotions, I serve the general audience, so I talk about historical events in a more down-to-earth way. What is a good museum? I think a good museum can inform, educate and entertain people."
Over the years, Hu has been recognized by many audiences. Some children inspired by her want to be museum docents after they grow up. An old guest from outside Chengdu who had visited the museum told his son to drop in on Hu two years later. Hu expressed, "the audience respect me because of their love for the Jinsha Site Museum and culture."
Hu Xiaorong
Passing down the stories of Jinsha Civilization from generation to generation
Since she took up the job in the 1980s, Hu has witnessed the great development of the career as a museum docent in Chengdu.
The Jinsha Site Museum now has more than 40 docents. Museums in Sichuan are attaching increasing value to fostering docents. Hu is frequently invited by public and private museums in the province to deliver training courses or give lectures for their employees.
What makes Hu happy is that more and more young people have joined the museum. She would let them know first is what she has got from the career instead of ways and skills of being a docent. "From a green hand knowing nothing to a confident professional, I've obtained a lot of happiness and joy from the career."
In a recent day, Hu received a video clip from the director of the Museum of Heilongjiang Province. A young docent in the museum said in the video, "In the beginning I thought the job was for young people only, but when I met Madame Hu, I realized what youth really means. She is 66 years old, and she proves that youth can be extended infinitely."
"Young people will love this job as long as you guide them wholeheartedly," Hu said, "We let people know well about the history as well as stories of Chengdu, and we will let them be passed down from generation to generation."

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