Tianjin's century-old museum tells of Sino-French bond

A complete hairy rhinoceros skeleton has been on display for a century at the National Museum of Natural History in France, while a similar skeleton unearthed in the same place of

China is on display at the Beijiang Museum in north China's Tianjin Municipality.

Beijiang Museum is a century-old hidden treasure nestled in the heart of the Wudadao historical urban area, a popular tourist destination in the downtown area of Tianjin.

The museum houses over 400,000 fossils and specimens of animals, plants, rocks, minerals and ancient humans, but according to curator Zhang Caixin, what sets the museum apart is not just its large collection, but the captivating story of its founder, Paul Emile Licent.

In March 1914, Licent arrived in Tianjin with a heart brimming with scientific curiosity. Little did he know that his arrival would mark the beginning of an extraordinary adventure spanning over 25 years.

The French naturalist journeyed through the vast northern territories of China. At every stop along his expedition, he meticulously documented his findings and gathered them in the museum that he founded.

When Licent left China, he took only his personal belongings back to his homeland. He left behind a large number of precious paleontological fossils and prehistoric cultural relics excavated during his most glorious academic years, providing indispensable materials for future scientists to conduct in-depth research, Zhang said.

"I cannot plunder the artifacts collected in the museum, gathered at great expense from various places. ... My principle is that all these rare paleontological artifacts discovered must remain at their place of discovery," Licent wrote in a book.

This architectural gem preserves not only its original site but also its original collections, exhibition cases and historical documents. "It can be regarded as a 'living fossil' for Chinese museums," said Zhang.

Its exhibition hall showcases a small stone with artificial chisel marks, discovered by Licent in Qingyang, northwest China's Gansu Province. It marks the first discovery of Paleolithic cultural relics with precise stratigraphic records within China.

Zhang explained that its existence shattered the assertion by German archaeologists that there was no Paleolithic era in China and heralded the beginning of Paleolithic archaeological research in China, earning Licent the reputation as a pioneer of Chinese Paleolithic archaeology.

With this year marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, a group of researchers working at the museum plans to visit the National Museum of Natural History in France for academic exchanges in June.

"We welcome researchers worldwide to Beijiang Museum where every exhibit tells a story and every corner echoes with the spirit of exploration," Zhang said, adding that the museum stands today as a testament to the enduring bond between China and France, and a beacon of cultural exchange for generations to come.