Experiencing the East at the Peabody Essex
By 11th grader Izzy
The students of Division 4 were shocked earlier this month when they sat down at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem to watch a video of what seemed to be a lovely wedding: a joining together of two wonderful families, a time of joy and laughter. The video quickly turned into something very unfamiliar. This present-day Chinese wedding, a decision made solely by the groom’s father, was a day mourning for the bride’s family; full of sadness and loss.
The wedding video was certainly not the only powerful, thought-provoking exhibit we had the privilege of seeing. Earlier in the day, students spent some time in a typical, 1840’s American house, commenting on the architectural elements that made it stand out as one of wealth. Students were then immersed in Chinese home life, an experience that fell just short of actually visiting the country, by touring the Yin Yu Tang house brought over and reconstructed at the museum. There were many obvious differences between the two houses; the lack of flashy wallpaper and decorations in the Chinese house stood out. The students debriefed their visit the next day, talking about the differences and similarities between the two houses and what each conveyed about that culture. What did the small rooms and large common areas of the Yin Yu Tang house tell us about Chinese values as compared with the larger individual rooms in the colonial home? After spending an entire trimester learning about differences in worldview between the East and the West, Confuician filial piety, and major historical events in China, the museum visit served as a way to experience these topics in a more hands-on way.
After a morning full of discussion on architecture and culture, students visited additional Chinese art exhibits, full of incredibly detailed pieces. These pieces ranged from a fragile, ornately detailed, carved ivory fan, to paintings done by Chinese artists imitating early 19th century American painting styles, to vibrantly colorful and, again, incredibly detailed porcelain vases.
Afterwards, the day took a slight detour and Jon, Division 4’s calculus and physics teacher, got to feel right at home in an interactive exhibit on dimensions. Aside from a slight headache, the exhibit gave students a very fun, interactive introduction to the daunting world of physics.