Butterfly museum becomes way of life for family

Updated: 2015-05-04 09:37


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Butterfly museum becomes way of life for family

Chen Anming explains butterflies to a youngster in Wuhan. His butterfly museum, with 100,000 specimens on display, is the first of its kind in Hubei province. [Photo/China Daily]

Anyone who accidentally walks into the two bungalows at the corner of Moon Lake Park in Wuhan will have their breath taken away by the huge array of colorful butterfly specimens that adorn the walls.

Chen Anming, founder of the butterfly museum, the first of its kind in Hubei province, usually stands aside, quietly watching as people marvel at the 100,000 specimens on display. But if approached by anyone who wants to know the stories behind his treasures, he is only too pleased to tell them.

The 54-year-old has spent most of his life trudging up mountains and trekking across plains to collect more than 1,200 varieties of butterflies found in China.

He has also collected more than 500 foreign species by exchanging specimens with butterfly collectors from all over the world, including a Helena Morpho from the rain forests of northern South America, which is regarded as the world's most beautiful butterfly.

In 2013, he rented the two bungalows and established the butterfly museum. Admission is free.

"The butterflies I've collected should be seen by more people, especially children, to whom it seems a luxury to see butterflies in the city's concrete jungle," Chen said. "I hope that my museum can contribute to the public's education on science and environmental protection."

To maintain the museum, Chen and his wife and 29-year-old daughter serve as museum guides during the day. In order to maintain the museum-paying the monthly rent of 10,000 yuan and the cost of utilities-they do odd jobs at night. Chen wakes up at 3 am every day to work as a porter; his wife helps out in a teahouse at night; and his daughter makes money by teaching guitar and selling items at a street stall.

The economic pressure has caused quarrels in the family, said Chen's wife, Cheng Jiangping. "He really loves butterflies, which I have known since we started dating. Now, he has my and our daughter's full support."

Chen's daughter, whose name, Tian Bie, translates as "more butterflies", is too busy looking after the museum to have a boyfriend.

"You can tell that I'm his daughter from my name. My goal is to carry on my father's butterfly career," she said.

Someone suggested that Chen charge admission to his museum, but he said no.

"Everyone should have the opportunity to visit my museum, whether they are poor or rich," he said.

Chasing butterflies across the fields was a big pleasure that Chen derived from nature when he grew up in the countryside.

He is obsessed with the beautiful flying insects. During his 20s, when he worked at a freight yard, he often asked for a month's leave to travel far to collect specimens.

Collecting butterflies used to be just a hobby for him, until he read a newspaper report in 1980 that said a group of Japanese had discovered, in Southwest China's Sichuan province, such a rare kind of butterfly that only the British Museum had another specimen at that time.

200,000 specimens

"I realized for the first time that butterflies are valuable for scientific research and began collecting and studying them systematically," he said.

Chen quit his job at 25 and became a full-time butterfly collector. He acquired his knowledge from studying library books, and he contacted a university professor for guidance on making specimens.

"What I love about collecting butterflies is that I can always discover one that lights up my eyes. I enjoy the feeling of freshness, and I like it that I'm learning something new all the time," he said.

He has built up a collection of 200,000 butterfly specimens during the past 30 years. The exhibition space in the bungalows can only accommodate half of his collection.

"My ideal butterfly museum is a theme park, where children can observe larvae metamorphosing into butterflies as well as appreciating the specimens," he said. "My ultimate goal is to develop a series of industries that are auxiliary to butterflies, such as exhibition, art, toy and science education."

His butterfly museum has attracted 100,000 visitors during the past two years. It has also gained the attention of the nongovernmental organization that promotes innovation in the city.

Chen is hopeful the NGO will help raise funds to make his dream come true.

Contact the writers at liukun@chinadaily.com.cn

Quick bio

Name: Chen Anming

Age: 54

Hometown: Wuhan, Hubei province

Job: Curator of a butterfly museum