ZJU’s specimen museums: striving stories in silent specimens (Part I)

2022-10-03 Global Communications

[Editor’s Note: Interested in specimen? Zhejiang University boasts five museums, where various specimens are displayed, ranging from rare insects, precious plants, diverse minerals, multiple soil to special macro-fungi. Beyond specimens, equally interesting are the stories of their creators, the histories of the disciplines, and the shining memories of ZJU. In Part I, let’s enter Entomological Museum and Herbarium.]

Entomological Museum

Entomological museum is located at ZJU’s College of Agriculture and Biotechnology, in the Zijingang campus. When you step into the museum, the huge specimen cabinets first come into view, collecting over 300,000 specimens for teaching and 1.3 million specimens for scientific research. About 9,000 specimens here are ranked as movable cultural relics. Among them the first specimen was collected in 1921 in Hainan province. With the showcase slowly pulled out, unfolded is also an inspiring history of ZJUers’ exploration.

During the Second World War, the University was forced to move over 1,000 miles inland to continue its educational mission. No matter how hard the situation was, where the university settled, where the teachers collected the local specimens. Their footprints scattered in the mountainous areas in Southwest China. The captured insects were carefully classified and attentively made into specimens, even though in an extreme simple environment. The most precious pieces of the museum—the specimen of Attacus Atas L and Phyllidae—were produced at that time in 1939, by academician CAI Banghua, who was then dean of the College. Later, on the return to Hangzhou after the Second World War, given the limitations of transportation, the teachers would rather abandon their luggage than unpack the specimens. Their devotion ensures the survival of these precious materials.  

Under observation, a small label is found attached to each insect specimen, which records its collector, and the time and place of its production. Faded and blurred though the handwritings are, these labels still act as the most eloquent speaker, telling visitors the spirit of ZJU’s west migration.


Located in the Biological Experiment Center, ZJU’s herbarium is one of the largest in Zhejiang Province, with a total of over 140,000 plant specimens and including more than 200 precious specimens reserved from the west migration.

“In that turbulent era, the students led by MO Ximu, HE Tianxiang and WU Changchun, investigated plants in the mountainous area of Guizhou province, and then continued the day by night in making specimens”, introduced ZHAO Yunpeng, a teacher from ZJU’s College of Life Sciences.

“The tools at that time were quite simple, no more than piles of absorbent papyrus and wooden specimen clips. Not a professional tool at hand, not a plain platform for experiment, even the light there was dim and flickering, yet they unfailingly sticked to this humdrum work and left us a quantity of excellent specimens,” proceeded ZHAO.


That was exactly the reason why the students re-started the west migration and visited Guizhou province in 2016—to retrieve the spirit of the west migration. Collecting the same specimens at the same site, as if the time was transcended and a dialogue with the seniors was sparkled. In this way, the new generation of ZJUers pay tribute to the senior’s past hardship and inherit the unflagging spirit.


Writer: LI Yimu, KE Yineng

Photo: LI Yimu and the interviewed teachers

Translator: ZHANG Jinmei

Editor: TIAN Minjie