The National Museum of China, a four-storied main building with two symmetrical wings, runs more than 300 meters north and south along the eastern side of Tian'anmen Square. The predecessors of the National Museum are two museums: the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of Chinese Revolution, which shared the same building complex. The building was one of ten famous architectures built in 1959 to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. The Museum of Chinese History was in the South Wing while the North Wing housed the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. They were both opened to the public in 1961
Rising 40 meters at its highest point, the creamy yellow structure is decorated with a band of alternating green and yellow glazed tiles surrounding its eaves. On each side of the entrance stands a pylon in the form of a burning torch, symbolizing Mao Zedong’s famous prophecy "A single spark cans tart a prairie fire."
Climbing up the granite steps the visitor will find himself inside a vestibule, which to the east into the Central Hall, to the north the Museum of Chinese History, and to the south the Museum of the Chinese Revolution.
The Central Hall is dedicated to the memory of Marx, Engel’s, Lenin and Stalin, and sculptured representations of their heads appear on the wall, lit by a skylight framed with ornamental white flowers.
The two museums are arranged symmetrically, each with an introductory hall and 17 exhibition halls. The exhibits housed in the museums are arranged over the course of hallways two kilometers long. The solemnity of the Central Hall contrasts with the airy simplicity of the exhibition halls.
The Museum of Chinese History opened to the public in 1926, when it was known simple as the Museum of History. Despite the 14 years of preparatory work which preceded its paltry collection, which included Han Dynasty pottery and bricks excavated from three tombs at Xinyang, Henan Province; Song Dynasty furniture and pottery found in the Song city of Julu in Hebei Province; as well as several jade seals from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864).
After 1949, however, the collection expanded rapidly to include over 30,000 pieces. Some of these came from official sources, such as the North China Administration of Cultural Relics, while more than 16,900 pieces came from private collections. Among these are a number of precious items such as a blue glazed lamp of the Six Dynasties period (222-589), Tang stone figurines, and a Ming embroidered silk portrait of the Heavenly Kings (Devarajas).
Exhibitions held in the Museum of Chinese History can be divided into those of a permanent nature, such as the present exhibition of the Comprehensive History of China, which begins with the period of primitive tribes and ends with the May 4th Movement in 1919; and those of a temporary nature, which include local history exhibitions and traveling exhibits from foreign museums.