Dr. Alfonz Lengyel, RPA. China Connections

by Lois Betterton

Dr. Alfonz Lengyel
Founder, Sino-American Field School of Archeology

 In the summer of 1980, Dr. Alfonz Lengyel visited China for the first time as a member of  an educational delegation. At that time Deng Xiaoping announced his “Four Modernizations” to the world. The building program required building a totally new infrastructure, including building new roads, bridges, seaports, buildings for schools and universities as well as for housing, and other new establishments. Deng’s plan also attracted foreign investments to build new factories, as well as the modernization of agriculture and agricultural-related industry.

Chinese law requires archaeological testing before construction could be proceeding. After conducting a quick research Dr. Lengyel pointed out in an article published in the magazine of “Museum” by ICOM (International Council of Museums) that the accelerated building program of Deng would require more archaeologists and museologists.
After a series of discussions with Dr. Lengyel, Dr. Xie Xide, then President of Fudan University,(Shanghai), realized that MUSEOLOGY is (1) a combination of human sciences which would need historical studies, and (2) physical science for restoration and conservation of artifacts. Furthermore. (3)  a study for display and management,  including storage of the collection, and (4) a study for visitor related matters, including public relations and statistics were needed. Thus, museums are not only storing and displaying heritage or natural science related items, but also improving the economy by attracting local, national, and international visitors.
Dr. Xie Xide,  who actually was not only one of the most eminent scientists of China, but also a culturally oriented person as well. Therefore, he immediately adopted Dr. Lengyel’s suggestions and requested financial assistance from the Central Government (State Council)  to finance the establishment of the Museology Institute combined with promotion of tourism. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) advocated internationally the combination of Museology with tourism 25 years later.

China has always been a global leader in culture and science related inventions, including the invention of paper and book printing. Similar innovation was implemented the field of education with the establishment of the world's first Institute of Museology and Tourism at Fudan University, Shanghai.

In 1971 Dr. Lengyel received a federal grant to establish a Masters Degree program of Museology between Wayne State University and the Museum of the Detroit Art Institute in the State of Michigan.
When he was invited to attend the China Symposium of the colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area in 1988, Dr. Xie Xide presented an outline of the needs for education in China, and she and Dr. Lengyel discussed the impact on Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Modernizations” in Chinese culture, including the role of future museologists and archaeologists in China

During the Symposium Dr. Lengyel provided Dr. Xie Xide with a detailed proposal for a similar Masters Degree Program for adoption at Fudan University. The psoposal was based upon Dr. Lengyel’s museology study in Hungary and Paris, as well as his research in a great number of American museums.
Dr. Xie Xide also learned that while in Hungary Dr. Lengyel established museums for villages to elevate the culture of the grossly neglected agricultural section of that country. She asked Dr. Lengyel’s advice on the establishment of a small university museum in Fudan University, and the following year Dr. Lengyel, was bestowed the title of Advisory Professor of Fudan University by Dr. Xie with department heads and deans of the university in attendance.

Dr. Lengyel also suggested the addition of an American Wing to the University Museum where American achievements in every aspect of life, art, economy, and industry form the American Revolution to the present could be exhibited.  To achieve that goal, Dr. Lengyel established the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Fudan Museum Foundation.
Dr. Lengyel discussed the project with the Director of the American Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. who
was willing to loan a great many American paintings that had been in storage for lack of gallery space.  Dr. Xie was delighted to receive those paintings following construction of the American Wing. Additionally, Dr. Lengyel was able to persuade the widow of the artist Harry Bertoia to donate several of her late husband's paintings to the Fudan Museum.  Unfortunately, the U.S. government was not interested in financing an American Wing to Fudan Museum but rather decided to build the American Institute at Fudan University that focused on international politics global economy.
Dr. Lengyel is now hoping that the General Assembly of ICOM, which will be held in Shanghai from   November 7th through November 12th 2010), ICOM will posthumously honor Dr. Xie Xide’s contribution to Chinese Museum Studies.
In preparing the building program of the new Art Museum of Shanghai, Dr. Lengyel and his Chinese wife Dr. Hongying Liu-Lengyel, were instrumental in arranging for the delegation from Shanghai to visit important museums in Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC.

Dr. Xie Xide introduced Dr. Lengyel to his classmate, then President of Xi’an Jiaotong University. During building a program of a classroom complex, a Western Han tomb (c.50 BC) was discovered. The burial chamber was decorated with wall paintings that depict the oldest Sky Map of China to date.

Dr. Lengyel further aim is to prepare and enlighten museologists and archaeologists in the protection of China’s cultural and natural historical heritages. In his mind, the finds belong to China, but at the same time, they are part of the heritage of the universal mankind. For this reason, he established SINO-AMERICAN FIELD SCHOOL of ARCHAEOLOGY (SAFSA). The School has operated in partnership with the Archaeological Institute of Shaanxi Province and Xi’an Jiaotong University.
Dr. Lengyel has directed the School’s programs throughout the past two decades. In the summer of 2009, he assigned the Field School to the Cotzen Institute of Archaeology of University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA). This archaeology summer school has been open for students not only from USA but other countries as well.

As a married couple, Dr. Alfonz Lengyel, RPA, and Dr. Hongying Liu-Lengyel, who is currently Professor at the Nanjing University of Finance and Economics, have been working since 1980 on better relations between China and the United States