While visiting a piece of the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s permanent exhibit about China, I found another clue towards the deeply seeded importance of art, scripture and learning in Chinese traditions. One of the rooms in the permanent exhibit is a reconstructed Chinese home from the 16th-17th century using furniture collected from the time period. The study constituted one of the most important rooms of the home. The museum’s commentary explains, “In the quiet of the study (shu fang – literally ‘book room’), the men of the household would practice the classical arts expected of a proper gentleman: calligraphy, painting, poetry, chess, playing the zither (qin), and studying the classics. Even less erudite members of society had studies in their homes as the presence of such a room added dignified status to a household.”
Basically, a learning room represented a status symbol and an integral part to a gentleman’s daily life. Does this tradition exist in western societies? What does this say about the historical importance of art, scripture and learning for Chinese society? Does this continue today? What impact does the traditional reverence for learning have on today’s China?