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First museum on Chinese immigrant experience

Chinese people have a long history of migrating overseas, starting in the Shang Dynasty around 1600 B.C. And now the first national museum documenting the journeys of these Chinese immigrants is set to open in Beijing.

Inside this grey modern building is the history of China’s immigrants.

Featuring 10,000 items, including photos, documents and artifacts from daily life, the Overseas Chinese History Museum of China is the first institution dedicated to telling the story of Chinese migrants throughout history. Its opening, scheduled for this spring, has been 50 years in the making.

“Chen Jiazeng, the first president of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, first put forward the proposal in 1960 and now it’s finally been realized. Behind me you can see this bas-relief of a tree and its roots. It not only symbolizes the spirit of old generations of overseas Chinese coming back to their homeland after their death, but also stands for the courage and determination of young overseas Chinese to take root in foreign lands,” said Wu Lei, Director of Overseas Chinese History Museum of China.

Four exhibition rooms are arranged chronologically and according to different themes. They show the past, present and future of overseas Chinese, ranging from individual stories of triumph to larger contributions made by overseas Chinese, both back home and in their adopted communities abroad.

“The most difficult task for us was finding the right way to tell these stories. Almost 80% of the items you see at the museum are donated by overseas Chinese people and we just want to find the best and most comprehensive way to tell their stories to the public,” said Wu.

While there are many reasons people choose to immigrate, the museum offers visitors a close portrait of overseas Chinese and their determined quest for a better life.