The Chinese Museum’s 2016 holiday gift guide

It’s that time of the year again! Good for you if you have all your gifts sorted already, you superhuman being — but for the rest of us currently experiencing a pre-holiday headache/total meltdown, the Chinese Museum hopes to help with some of our own nifty gift ideas. Good luck, and shop wisely!



Shao Qihua Paintings ($200)

Ideal for: your arty sister
She’s both stylish and creative; her wardrobe might consist of only Gorman dresses, which she coordinates with equally colourful lipsticks and her own handmade jewellery. In fact, most days you swear she’s actually the physical manifestation of a Shao Qihua painting — vibrant, animated, too adorable to bear. As an arts and crafts fanatic with a penchant for all things independent, she’ll especially appreciate the cultural and artistic significance of Shao’s paintings: not only is the artist renowned in the Chinese ‘Peasant Painting’ canon, but she utilises her skills in traditional folk arts passed down for generations — like paper cutting, embroidery, weaving. It’s a must-have for our Marketing and Events Coordinator Michelle (who is very much the arty sister in both her family and the office): “I want one for my lounge room!”

Shao’s paintings are currently part of our exhibition ‘Modern Folk Art: Peasant Paintings by Shao Qihua‘. Artworks can be picked up on 21 and 22 Dec, just in time for Christmas.



Kwan the Lion  ($47.50) 

Ideal for: the playful, hands-on kid in the family
He/she is really, really into Lego. Puzzles and colouring books? Probably too old-school for their tastes. Either way, if something requires constructing from scratch — this kid is definitely up to the challenge. And Kwan the Lion, the Melbourne-based DIY kit that began life as a Kickstarter project, might just be that challenge. Not only do you colour and build the 3D head of the lion, you get to wear the finished product too! The toy/artwork/headpiece can be made after Christmas and worn out on the streets by Chinese New Year in January, making it a truly versatile holiday gift.

You can pick it up from the museum gift shop, open 7 days a week.

Membership (from $20)

Ideal for: the precocious, know-it-all kid in your family
Who needs presents when you can give the gift of knowledge! Admittedly that might not sound so appealing, but when one floor of the museum is entirely dedicated to replicating the experience of the gold rush, kids often forget they’re even learning. Good thing if the kid in your family already has an insatiable appetite for knowledge: he/she might find the the museum’s more immersive and interactive exhibits especially worthwhile. At $20, an annual concession museum membership guarantees unlimited visits all year round, as well as many other perks. Hint hint: an annual family membership package (two adults and three children) at $50 might be a sneaky way to reward both the little ones as well as yourself.

You can fill our your form here and submit it to



Parasols ($10)

Ideal for: your social butterfly best friend
He’s already lined up his summer calendar with every music festival/outdoor cinema/arts extravaganza you can think of, so you probably shouldn’t buy him any more event tickets (he’s probably got it already). Usually hibernating throughout winter, he’ll emerge out of his cave as soon as temperatures hit past the mid-twenties — ready to party, mingle, and bask in the sun. A parasol might just be the perfect stocking filler for him since, a) he overlooks just how much damage the sun actually does to one’s skin every single year and b) he’ll obviously need a hilarious prop to go with his summer shenanigans. Our museum volunteer Tim might want to get one in all three colours: “It’ll definitely be a festival conversation starter, for sure.”

You can pick up a parasol from the museum gift shop, open 7 days a week.


Book sale stocking fillers (from $1)

Ideal for: Adventurous parents/grandparents
Bonus points if they recently returned from an overseas trip in China. Our gift shop always has a large selection of titles on all things Chinese – from Chinese language learning resources to coffee table books on contemporary art. Aside from the usual suspects, the museum is also clearing out old stock, with most books on sale for only $1 or $2. Not only do they make great stocking fillers, you’ll be able to fill up the bookshelves of your avid-reader parents/grandparents — one stack of books at a time.

The museum gift shop is open 7 days a week.

‘Outsider’ Artists: Leo Tien and Shao Qihua


This summer, the Chinese Museum’s two exhibitions, ‘Modern Folk Art: Peasant Paintings by Shao Qihua‘ and ‘The Unruly Art of Leo Tien‘, will showcase the paintings of two artists who are not quite artists in the traditional sense. Though wildly different in style, the works of Shao Qihua and Leo Tien might be labelled ‘outsider art’ or ‘naive art’, due to their practices being outside the confinements of the mainstream art world. Often, ‘outsider art’ might also refer to the work of untrained or self-taught artists, which is the case for Leo Tien.

Looking only at their ‘outsider’ status, however, overlooks their unique creative visions, as formed by extraordinary social, political and cultural contexts.

Leo Tien (1920 – 2001)

We can’t be sure when Tien first felt the urge to paint, and we can’t be certain what motivated him to begin this creative journey, but when we look at the body of work he created in Australia from the 1980s until the early 1990s, it’s astonishing how much he accomplished.

Leo Tien was a man of many parts. As a young man, Tien was ordained as a Catholic priest; after the upheaval of WWII and China’s ensuing political turmoil, Tien left his home in China’s Shandong Province for Rome, where he worked in the Vatican Library. In the latter part of his life, he would move once again, settling in Melbourne. It’s here that Tien would leave the priesthood, marry and flourish creatively as a painter and poet.

While his remarkable life is a testament to his unique capacity to adapt and change, his art becomes a reflection of an intensely personal story. His subjects range from his relationships with friends and family to his identity as a Chinese Australian; commentary to social and cultural issues to his rich spiritual engagement with world religions and iconography.

Tien creates vivid images with religious themes — from his painting of the Chinese Madonna and Child (1994) to a portrait of his parents and siblings with a religious tableau in a red frame at the top of the painting. Tien’s human family from the past in China comfortably co-habits with his spiritual family in the present. Even his paintings of cathedrals and pagodas seem to emanate a special radiance of deep reverence and affection. He plays with the notion of art history and western values with his painting The Last Supper (1989) where Jesus and his disciples all have distinctly Chinese features and the meal consists of dumplings and the eating utensils are chopsticks.

Shao Qihua (1965 -)

A ‘peasant painter’ from from Jinshan –dubbed China’s ‘hometown of modern folk art’– in the outskirts of Shanghai, Shao Qihua’s works revolve mostly around rural life. They show the ‘simple’ pleasures in farming, community and family gatherings, and seasonal festivities. At times, commentary on China’s urban-rural divide seeps through, yet rural peasant life is never painted through a critical lens. The vibrant colours, intricate patterns and Shao’s strong graphic aesthetic dominate these scenes, reflecting the fondness and attachment with which Shao herself has for her peasant roots: despite having lived abroad briefly in places like Australia, she cites eating rice, talking to her neighbours, and the soil and air of her home town as the true sources of her inspiration (link in Chinese).

The works of Shao Qihua reveal a lot more than China’s rural context; specifically, they also invariably infer Shao’s own social and cultural standing. As a painting style, ‘Peasant Painting’ is inextricably entwined with the conditions arising from the Cultural Revolution. When ‘peasants’ were encouraged to take on art, peasant art ‘institutions’ like the Jinshan Peasant Painting Academy, where Shao was trained, were established decades later. Today, the style remains on the periphery of mainstream art; despite exhibitions in China’s major cities as well as in the international sphere, critics often deem the peasant style as too ‘naive’ or commercial.

Nevertheless, Peasant Paintings allowed for the emergence of women artists like Shao, who combined  their creative vision with their skills in embroidery and weaving – crafts that were traditionally seen as more ‘domestic’ and ‘feminine’.

Opening night: ‘Unbounded Space’

Unbounded Space opened on Monday, the 14th of November. The museum was extremely excited to have curator He Fei-Yue and artist Wang Run-Yue on board for this temporary exhibition, not only for their unique brand of contemporary art, but also their expertise in the Chinese arts sector. Both He and Wang are from Shanghai’s celebrated M50 art district, often billed as Beijing 798’s equivalent. While Wang has previously exhibited internationally, Australia is a first for him.

The opening drew in a mix of museum members, visitors and local Chinese community members. The Chinese Museum’s chairman Bill Au was also in attendance.


An intern’s illustrations of Melbourne’s Chinese-Australian community


Back in July/August, the Chinese Museum was fortunate to have Dorrit and Kelly on board as marketing interns. The two students came here from Taiwan as part of a school program, and generously volunteered their time and skills at multiple Chinese-Australian organisations and associations, including the museum.

Dorrit has since left Australia, but recently she sent over her own illustrations of her time here in Melbourne – a city she had a blast not only exploring in, but contributing to. These lively images also give us great insight into how our Chinese-Australian community might be viewed through a Chinese lens from abroad.


Right: “The world’s biggest processional dragon. The Millennium Dragon awaits the new year to participate in the festive street parade.” Left: “The Gold Rush. The life and times of 19th century gold miners, who came to Australia’s ‘New Gold Mountain’ from Guangzhou.”

dorit2Internship tasks and the people of the Chinese Museum, e.g. Top left: “Painting the gallery. Featuring  the graceful Uncle Kim and the always energetic Michelle.” Bottom left: Taiwanese vs. Australian post boxes. Middle: “The charismatic Financial Officer Pody, who, even with her busy workload, never forgets to care for us.


dorit4Assisting with Sabrina Dance Troupe for the Melbourne Taiwan Festival. Bottom right: “Sabrina Dance Troupe was invited to plan the event’s programming and different types of dance choreography, displaying the lively and passionate spirit of Taiwan.”


‘蝕-nibble, erosion, eclipse’ is extended until 31 October

Photos courtesy of Peter Zhou

Chen I-Yen’s Resting, Roaming, In the Center of the Earth. Photo courtesy of Peter Zhou. 

We had a few programs on for the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year, but our Contemporary Gallery’s inaugural exhibition 蝕-nibble, erosion, eclipse undeniably stole the show. It not only opened to a sizeable crowd on its opening night, but also had a largely successful run throughout the festival. So much so that it was nominated for the Fringe Visual Art Award. We’re pleased to announce that the show will go on – at least, until October 31.

Yang Yan's Teeth Statement. Photo courtesy of Peter Zhou.

Yang Yan’s Teeth Statement. Photo courtesy of Peter Zhou.

Produced by the Chinese Museum,  is the result of three artists’ exploration of just one Chinese character – 蝕 (Shí) – and the meanings, feelings and phenomenon behind it. What is usually used in reference to an eclipse, or erosion, becomes something more intangible, speaking to the realm of dreams, memories, journeys, and desire.

The three artists (Zheng Tian-Shu, Chen I-Yen and Yang Yan) combined their respective practices to form an interdisiplinary exhibition featuring ceramic and pottery, video, painting and installation. It’s as conceptual as it is tactile; many of the works on display require engagement beyond the visual. In the case of Chen’s pottery (intact or otherwise), or Yang’s clay teeth, touch becomes particularly crucial to the experience, adding to (or perhaps disrupting) the contemplative nature of the exhibition. As part of the program, the artists led a sensory tour for the vision-impaired, guiding them through the exhibition with a mixture of audio descriptions, scents and touch.

Entry to the exhibition is free with museum entry (Adults $10; Concession $8.50; Family $24.50). The Chinese Museum is 7 days a week, from 10am – 4pm.