Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester is now Spark!

Interview with Dr. Xiaosheng Wu

By Eric Anderson

Last week we had the distinct pleasure of discussing our new exhibit, Children of Hangzhou: Connecting with China, with Dr. Xiaosheng Wu. In addition to his research position at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Wu is the Principal of the Rochester Chinese School. As a 17-year resident of Rochester, he brings a unique perspective to the exhibit having visited the city of Hangzhou, as well as his continued efforts to educate and support the local Chinese community.

What are your initial thoughts on the Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester’s new exhibit, Children of Hangzhou: Connecting with China?

Dr. Xiaosheng Wu: A few days ago I stopped by and I was really, really impressed. It’s way more high-tech than I thought it would be. I thought it would be some posters with information and a few pieces from the region, but everything is interactive. I was really amazed. They did a great job.

Having visited Hangzhou, do you feel that the exhibit is a good representation of the diversify lifestyles there?

Yes. Absolutely. I think that the amount of things they were able to show is surprising. In the beginning I thought the children’s museum would only be able to show a few things, but when I visited it I saw that there was really every aspect. You have the culture, you have the art, you have the day-to-day life. It really covered a broad range of how kids are living in China.

In the exhibit, children are invited to plant rice, play a traditional instrument, learn to write in Chinese… What are the benefits of the children being able to take this hands-on approach to learning the Chinese culture?

I think that by adding that element, if they only read things at the exhibit they would have to go back later on the computer and dig that information up and often that can get lost or forgotten. They may not remember what they wanted to look up. Visually, I remember at your exhibit seeing how rice was grown in China. There were three different symbols and if you flip the symbol there’s a little screen underneath so you can see what that would look like in real life.  

In addition to those visual elements, the exhibit is presented from the viewpoint of four different children growing up in China. Do you feel that those narratives offer a good representation of the region’s population as a whole?

Yes. Hangzhou is a big city on the East Coast. In the surrounding areas they grow rice like the exhibit shows, but the city itself represents the Asian culture of eastern China and the traditions of eastern China, which could be seen in the stage set-up in the exhibit. Kids could put the traditional clothes on and experience it. You know, that was really fantastic.

This is always hard, trying to get everything. I mean, China is huge and the culture is very diverse. So it’s hard to get everything covered. And I think what you have… I have to say I think you guys did a really, really good job.

One thing I would add is that it would be nice to get some feedback from the kids. Like, what they would like to see, what additional things. When they learn how to write in Chinese, what is their feedback? Is there anything that we can provide as a community, not for your exhibit, but in the future? For those who are interested in knowing more about our culture, we would be happy to help in whatever way we can. At the exhibit I saw a little girl onstage, wearing a traditional Chinese outfit, and she was so happy. I just wanted to know what was her state of mind, what was she thinking and what will she take away from that experience.

Just for fun, if there was a reversal of this exhibit called The Children of Rochester presented to the children in Hangzhou, what would you include in it?

Well, after living here for 17 years I love this place a lot. The unique things about Rochester are of course the Clinic and the winters. And I’d add the beauty of the surrounding countryside, the farmland and the animals. You probably have to show them the geese and Silver Lake. If you put all those things in China, I think they would be fascinated.

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