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HomeNewsAcademic activities
Treasures on show draw long lines at Palace Museum
From:China Daily  Writer:Wang Kaihao  Date:2017-09-29
Visitors keen on seeing A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, a 12th-century masterpiece, at the Palace Museum show that history and tradition are still cherished in the country. Wang Kaihao reports.

For the second time in two years we have people in Beijing standing in long lines for a museum exhibition.

This time, like on the previous occasion, it is for an exhibition at the Palace Museum, China's imperial palace from 1420 to 1911, also known as the Forbidden City.


Treasures on show at the Palace Museum in Beijing include the early 12th-century masterpiece, A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, and ancient clay figurines. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

The long line is to see the painting, A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, an early 12th-century masterpiece.

The current situation is a repeat of what happened two years ago when another Chinese painting, Alongside the River During the Qingming Festival, was on display at the museum.

Since Shan Jixiang took up the director's role at the museum in 2012, this old palace has been shaking off stereotypes of being an old-fashioned academic institution.

"We'd like to make visiting the museum a part of people's daily lives," says Shan.

"Academic research is not alien from the public's interests."

Shan has brought his institution into the headlines, again and again, with influential exhibitions as well as with online shopping and phone apps.

A documentary on cultural relic restorers, Masters in the Forbidden City, went viral online and even sparked a rise in the number of people applying for jobs at the museum last year.

"The old ways must be improved to enable visitors to 'take the museum home'," he says. "People want behind-the-scenes stories."

Shan also wants visitors to enjoy the Forbidden City experience. More areas in the world's largest imperial architecture complex, covering 720,000 square meters, have been unlocked in the past five years.


Treasures on show at the Palace Museum in Beijing include the early 12th-century masterpiece, A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, and ancient clay figurines. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily}

In 2012, less than half of the Palace Museum was accessible to the public, largely due to safety concerns, as many of the old palace buildings were in a state of disrepair.

But with more buildings being renovated-it was 76 percent last year, and is projected to cross 85 percent in 2020-more areas "suitable for opening-up" will no longer be forbidden.

The Meridian Gate Gallery, just above the entrance of the museum, for example, was unlocked in 2015 to create a 2,800-square-meter space to display treasures including A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains.

"In the past, people used to walk along the complex's axis and didn't spare much time on the exhibition hall," says Shan.

"But things have changed now. As there are more places to see in the Forbidden City, the axis is also less crowded."


Treasures on show at the Palace Museum in Beijing include the early 12th-century masterpiece, A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, and ancient clay figurines. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]
 
According to Shan, from the 80,000 visitors to the museum daily, 10,000 climb up to the Meridian Gate Gallery.

Meanwhile, a research academy was also established at the museum in 2013 to use academic resources beyond its red walls. And many retired researchers from the museum and scholars from other institutions were invited to join inter-disciplinary studies at the academy, which has more than 20 departments.

Booming scene

Shan's approach echoes China's efforts to improve the protection of the country's cultural heritage in the past five years.

And as President Xi Jinping said in 2013: "We should systematically categorize traditional culture, let cultural relics in forbidden palaces be displayed across the country, and let characters written in the ancient books come alive."

For Liu Yuzhu, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the popularity of the Palace Museum is just one example of a boom in Chinese cultural heritage preservation.

For instance, there were 3,866 registered museums on the Chinese mainland in 2012, and the number was 4,873 by the end of 2016, attracting nearly 900 million visitors a year.

"Museums now offer better services rather than merely functioning as custodians of cultural relics," says Liu.

"And new methods like digital exhibitions and the Internet are being widely used to promote ancient Chinese civilization."

Also, many restrictions are being lifted to make museums more dynamic, particularly privately-owned ones.

In 2012, there were only 647 private museums, but the number was 1,297 in 2016.

"Now, the government is just a guide when private efforts are made to protect cultural relics," says Liu.

In 2015, a national rule was promulgated to regulate museum operations.

"Museums can help tourism, economic development and education," he says. "So, plans are being made for different regions."

Big picture

The protectors of China's cultural relics have expanded the scope of their work in the past five years, says Chai Xiaoming, director of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage.

For instance, exhibitions of Chinese cultural relics overseas are becoming a key part of China's cultural diplomacy.

An exhibition on the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) heritage attracted more than 100,000 visitors to the British Museum over 2014-15.

The Exhibition of Qin (221-207 BC) and Han (202 BC to 220 AD) Civilization, which was on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York earlier this year attracted 350,000 people.

Besides, Liu says Chinese institutions have worked with 15 countries in the past five years on joint archaeological discoveries and cultural heritage restoration as part of China's Belt and Road Initiative.

For instance, the Palace Museum conducted joint archaeological excavations of ancient ports in India and of ancient city ruins in Germany, while the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage led the restoration of a temple in Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

"When compared with infrastructure, such projects cost less money but win support from the local community," Chai says.

As for recent domestic achievements, Liu says: "We've recently done archaeological work in Beijing's Tongzhou district, the Xiong'an New District in Hebei province, and the area to be used for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games."

 
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