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Hao Sheng. The Early History of Collecting Chinese Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Above the entrance to the Chinese Galleries at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), hangs a large plaque inscribed with four large characters. Carved in seal script and lacquered with gold and mother-of-pearl, they read ‘yu gu wei tu’, or ‘Keeping company with the past’. The phrase, from the 4th century BCE Chinese classic Zhuangzi, states the mission of the place. The leftmost large character, tu, is here in its original meaning of ‘keeping company with’. Its pictograph shows two figures walking side by side, an apt image for the Chinese collection in Boston, which allows museum-goers to ‘keep company with’ the finest of Chinese culture, serves to bridge the past and present, and brings together distant lands. ‘Keeping company’ also implies a sympathetic bond; a mutual respect shared between two equals. The early history of the museum, with its pioneering effort in presenting Chinese art in the United States, demonstrates this respectful stance. 

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