Boom of traditional culture drives museum craze in China
  ·  2023-08-30  ·   Source: Xinhua News Agency

A tourist visits an exhibition at a Qinqiang opera art museum in the Yisushe Theater cultural block in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on August 8 (XINHUA)

Booking a museum ticket, during this hectic summer vacation in China, is not easy. Aspiring visitors may be disappointed by the fact that tickets for the entire week might be fully booked.

In response to the "heated-up museum fever during the summer vacation," Beijing Municipal Cultural Heritage Bureau, in a rare move, announced on August 18 that 46 museums in the city would cancel their Monday closures until August 31, allowing visitors to visit museums every day.

The surging demand is also visible in packed museum halls across the country. To many museum staff, the crowds they see this summer were rarely seen before, and the hustle-and-bustle museum scene is a total novelty.

Looking into the causes behind this "museum craze," Guo Sike, curator of the Confucius Museum in Qufu City, east China's Shandong Province, pointed to the "craze for traditional culture," or a growing fascination with traditional Chinese culture, particularly among young Chinese.

"Young generations have cultural confidence and love the splendid traditional Chinese culture," said Guo, adding that modern technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), have diversified the means by which traditional culture is presented, and enabled it to be presented in a more lovable and lively image.

Rising demand for museum tours 

On a Sunday morning in August, the Shanxi Museum in Taiyuan City, capital of northern China's Shanxi Province, drew a long line of visitors before its opening hour. "A large number of bronzes, Buddha statues, artifacts from traditional residential courtyards and ancient opera stages are displayed here," said Wang Bin, a tourist from Beijing. He was visiting the museum together with his wife and son, dragging suitcases with them.

"The visit will leave my kid a general impression of the long history of Shanxi Province, its history of ethnic integration, the culture of Shanxi merchants and local ancient architectures, which helps to broaden his horizon and enrich his knowledge," said Wang.

As of Aug. 15, the Shanxi Museum had welcomed a total of 1.11 million visits this year, among which, 400,000 visits, or more than one-third of the total, had been recorded during the period from July 1 to Aug. 15. The number of visits to the museum for the entire year 2019 was tallied at 1.41 million.

To satisfy the needs of visitors, the Shanxi Museum extended the opening duration by one hour on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer vacation, and increased the number of free guided tours to almost five times more than non-holiday time, according to Zhang Huiguo, deputy curator of the museum.

The Shaanxi History Museum in the city of Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, also saw growing enthusiasm from visitors, and their tickets are highly sought-after during the summer vacation. Despite a daily maximum capacity of 12,000 visitors, the museum's ticket booking platform receives more than 600,000 clicks each day, and tickets are fully booked the moment they become available for reservation.

In response, the museum called off its Monday closures and prolonged opening hours on Sundays, during the summer vacation.

Increasing charm of traditional culture 

At the Confucius Museum in Shandong, Du Pengfei, a secondary school student from Heze City, was "enthralled by the charm of brilliant traditional culture," after completing his visit.

"I did my homework before coming here, and I knew that the Kong family boasts a long history of book printing, and many of the books displayed were made by woodblock printing," said Du, referring to the ongoing exhibition in the museum on books and documents of the Kong family (Kong is the family name of Confucius). "Woodblock printing was an important invention of the ancient Chinese people," said Du.

The growing popularity of study tours focusing on traditional culture has also attracted huge crowds to museums, as museum visits usually constitute an integral session of the tour.

Catering to the needs of these study tours, the Confucius Museum, for example, has launched a variety of exhibitions and activities apart from its regular exhibitions themed on Confucius, including the ones showcasing the Kong family's customs, rituals, daily etiquette, as well as calligraphy and aesthetic education summer camps.

In Xi'an, the traditional Qinqiang Opera, a local folk opera genre added to the country's intangible heritage list in 2006, has become a popular subject of study tours.

Local museums themed on Qinqiang Opera offer participants of the tours opportunities to learn the culture not only by the book but also hands-on -- donning the performers' costumes, learning to sing a classic excerpt of the opera, drawing Qinqiang Opera masks and joining a shadow puppet performance.

"Compared to being a passive recipient in traditional sightseeing tours, people love the more interactive and hands-on travel experiences," said Yang Rong, director of the study tour sub-branch of the Shaanxi Tourism Association, "students traveling to the historic city of Xi'an would love to learn a few lines of Qinqiang Opera, to try repairing an artifact, or to learn the performance of shadow puppetry."

"Museums are bridges connecting the past, present, and future. The 'museum craze' is propelled by a renaissance of Chinese traditional culture in recent years. More and more people wish to learn more about the profound Chinese civilization and the historical heritage of the Chinese nation through visiting museums," said Yang Chaoming, professor at the Advanced Institute for Confucian Studies, Shandong University.

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