Friday, 20 April 2018

The Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution

Housed in a splendid example of Soviet wedding cake architecture is Beijing's Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution. I make a point of hunting down military museums when I'm travelling and of the many that I've been able to visit, I'd have to say this is one of the most spectacular.

The entrance to the imposing building is flanked by a pair of sculptures that are classic examples of socialist realism.

Once through the doors every visitor then passes under the paternal gaze of the glorious leader himself, Mao Zedong.

It is a relatively new building and is a wonderful showcase for the museum's collection. Unfortunately the day I visited several of the galleries dedicated to specific wars were closed, nonetheless there was more than enough to see in the aircraft and armour halls. So, no surprise the museum covers the more recent wars in which the communist party have been involved, starting with the Sino-Japanese war in the 1930s and on to the present day. While the main halls contained no narrative or interpretation of those various wars, and was pleasingly propaganda free, I would be very interested to see how the other galleries interpret the conflicts.

I have visited the military museum at the Yasukini Shrine in Tokyo and while the collection was fascinating the interpretation, particularly of WWII was a rather warped, right wing, nationalist view that is the source of much controversy to this day.

Entering the enormous armour and artillery halls I was almost overawed with how much was on display and how well it was all presented.

I have a particular interest in the Sino-Japanese war and was hoping to see many pieces of hardware I may not have seen elsewhere. I was not to be disappointed. Not that many Japanese tanks survive the war to be found in museums and there were two here that I had never seen before.

Japanese Armoured Railroad car Type 95 So-Ki

The Type 97 Kai Shinhoto Chi-ha below was interesting. This is the later model Chi Ha with the enlarged turret and 47mm gun.  The Soviets captured large numbers of these in 1945 and gave them to the Chinese communists where they formed the core of the armoured units of the People's Liberation Army. This tank is labelled the "Hero" tank and the very special attention its display is given in the museum would indicate it played a notable role in the revolution.

I've seen the Type 97 Chi Ha before, but the museum has one of these as well.

The Chinese army in the 1930s had a number of different tanks including Panzer I, Vickers MkE, T-26 and the diminutive Italian CV33. Most of these were lost in the battles for Shanghai in 1937 and it would appear none survive. The museum had an Italian CV33 which I suspect dates back to a 1930s purchase. There would seem little other reason for it to be there.

Italian CV33

There was a huge collection of artillery pieces from howitzers to mortars.

A pair of Japanese 105mm howitzers Type 91 

Japanese 70mm Battalion gun Type 92

Chinese 70mm 'Gailiang' infantry gun to the left of the Japanese Type 92

Chinese 75mm infantry gun Type 12

Japanese 75mm mountain gun Type 41

Chinese 105mm infantry gun, looking somewhat antiquated!

Chinese 88mm field gun Type 18

Last, but by no means least, is this medieval looking contraption. It looks as equally hazardous to its crew as it probably is to its intended target and is simply described as the 'Chinese Explosive Canister Launcher'. Light fuze and stand well clear!

The Chinese bought a lot of weapons on the open market in the 1930s from a wide variety of suppliers. This included several German models and most are represented here.

German 150mm L/32 Howitzer

Chinese 37mm Type 30 - the German Pak36 made under licence.  Note the wooden wheels.

I was not aware the Chinese had the German Pak38 though, so not sure how this was acquired, unfortunately the labels have little information in English.

German 50mm Pak38 L/60

Here was something I have not seen before and it was great to see it for the first time.

German le.IG18 75mm infantry gun

There was a good selection of smaller anti tank guns.

Japanese 37mm anti tank gun

US M3A1 37mm anti tank gun

The Chinese army in WWII was equipped with much American equipment, so not surprisingly there is much on display. Chinese involvement in the Korean War would seem to explain the presence of several later models of US tanks, presumably captured at some stage (?).

The M5A1 was supplied by the US to the Chinese during WWII and this one went on to see service in the PLA.

The Sherman below must have lost its barrel somewhere, also interesting to note the variation in road wheels.

The M36 below is unusual and appears to have some sort of additional crew protection added to the top of the turret. This may be of Korean War vintage.

US M36 Pershing


A few more pieces of WWII vintage but possibly acquired during the Korean War.

US M29C Weasel

British Oxford Mk1 Carrier.  Definitely of Korean War vintage.

The Carrier below was labelled a Canadian Wasp flamethrower and the label included the date 1951, so while of WWII vintage I'd suggest this is also a Korean War acquisition.

Wasp MkIIc Univeral Carrier

Little surprise to see Soviet tanks in the collection, including these two examples of T34/85.

Finally, a vast array of various anti aircraft machine guns and cannons.

There was a large collection of more modern equipment but that's not an area I'm particularly interested in and so didn't take pictures of what was on display, which was exclusively tanks of Chinese and Russian origin.

A very good museum and well worth visiting.  It is only a few stops on the Beijing subway from Tiananmen Square, so if you are ever visiting Beijing chances are you won't be too far away.  Which subway station is closest?  Well, try 'Military Museum'.

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to see pictures of different museums from around the world. Thanks for posting.