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The first thing you see in one of the two rooms set aside for the exhibit is a poster from the 1964-65 World's Fair touting the China pavilion, and small exhibits on the walls follow the Chinese experience decade by decade. Photos from post-2000, when the United States population of Chinese immigrants exceeded 1 million, show the first Chinese astronaut, rather nervously waving from his space capsule, the flag of China sewn to his suit. There are photos of Gary Locke, ex-governor of Washington state, posing with his well-scrubbed family; Yao Ming, the huge Chinese basketball star; John Liu, the first (and only!) Chinese American elected to the New York City Council; and a photo of Jimmy Meng, the first Chinese immigrant elected to the New York State Assembly. There's a flier, done in the bilious yellows and reds of 1960s and early '70s adverts, announcing the dedication of the loftily placed Sun Yat Sen Hall at St. John's University on Sept. 8, 1973. Invitations to gallery shows of Chinese artists are as beautifully done as the artwork themselves. There's propaganda for the Cultural Revolution ("Take back Hong Kong!") near a photo from Vietnam, whose wasteful war finally made America pay attention to things Asian. There's a photo of President Jimmy Carter and the Chinese premier establishing diplomatic relations, heartbreaking shots of Chinese being kicked out of Vietnam after the war, and a comfortingly quotidian snap of two kids riding a bike through the projects.There's a photo of a gorgeous, green jade Goddess of Mercy above an arrangement of silk peonies and roses. Above the fireplace are paintings of beautiful women by Mr. Hong of Flushing - I think he also painted the rooster in the corner. We see a jubilant photo of China finally taking back Hong Kong, and others of Wen Ho Lee being falsely arrested as a spy and people from civics unions gamely posing and smiling. Another wall holds a shot of that poor chap standing in front of that column of tanks in Tiannamen Square during the uprising and photos of a ground breaking for a Buddhist temple in Elmhurst.Next door is a room dedicated to Kunqu opera, but before you enter the room, you pass through a little vestibule hung with delicate paintings of fat, rosy cheeked Chinese children and their elaborately dressed caretakers, which is a good introduction to Kunqu. Kunqu is a form of opera not much practiced anymore - seems that Chinese kids would rather watch videos or something - but there is a Kunqu Society in Whitestone. On view are the meticulously crafted costumes and objects used by the actors. A display case holds an elaborate warrior's helmet, made of pearls and gilding and blood red pom-poms. Across the room is a fantastic court ladies' helmet, also made of pearls and bits of jewels with pink pom-poms and tassels. Its blue and white scrolls and curlicues echo the feathers of a kingfisher. There's a beautiful fan full of a Kunqu artist's calligraphy, scholar's fans and the fans of court ladies, musical instruments and the robes of a warrior and a court lady made of pure, hand-embroidered silk. They are so opulent that they should be completely tasteless, but they're as stunningly beautiful and weird as the plumage of otherworldly birds of paradise. The sleeves of the lady's gown trail to the floor. The upper parts of the sleeves are embroidered, the lower are unadorned and snow white. By the way, the operas have names like Mountain Gate, Joy of the Fisherman, Love Through a Poem and Monkey King and Princess Iron Fan.The Queens Historical Society is at 143-35 37th Ave. in Flushing; go to Northern Boulevard and Bowne Street, and walk a block and a half till you see that little yellow house past the playgrounds. But just before you make the turn, check out the very old trees on the sidewalk and then the weeping beech trees, which are descended from a weeping beech planted by Samuel Bowne in the park behind the museum. They're living history."40 Years of Chinese Immigrants in Queens" will be up till Sept. 4.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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