Chinese museum visits surge in popularity this summer

The surge in "museum fever" can be attributed to various factors, including the public's increasing enthusiasm for traditional Chinese culture.


A cute pottery is seen at the Datong Museum in Shanxi province, Aug 20, 2023. PHOTO: VCG/ CHINA DAILY

September 7, 2023

BEIJING – During the summer holiday, visiting museums has emerged as a new trend, with several renowned museums being dubbed as “must-visit” destinations by netizens. Tourists were seen queuing for long hours in front of museums and obtaining entrance tickets became more challenging.

According to media reports, the Henan Museum received more than 12,000 visitors this summer, nearly double that of the same period in 2019. The Hangzhou Museum recorded 12,800 visitors on July 16, setting a new daily attendance record.

Sun Mingli, the curator of the Suzhou Museum, said bookings for museum visits were snapped up within hours. To accommodate the increasing number of visitors, the museum extended its opening hours to 9 pm.

Directors of the Shandong Museum and the Nanjing Museum also reported heightened enthusiasm among tourists this summer. The Shandong Museum has assigned core staff members to rotate in introducing exhibits daily, while they have also set up a “curator’s day” on Tuesdays, on which day museum heads personally guide visitors.

In response to the growing demand, 46 museums in Beijing canceled their customary Monday closures and remained open daily until August 31.

Factors contributing to the ‘museum fever’

According to Xinhua News Agency, the surge in “museum fever” can be attributed to various factors, including the public’s increasing enthusiasm for traditional Chinese culture, the flourishing market for youth educational tours and summer camps, as well as the continuous innovation of museums.

Lin Liugen, the director of the Institute of Archaeology at Zhejiang University, said the “museum craze” reflects a profound connection between the public and traditional culture. As the economy and society progress, more people seek a deeper understanding of China’s rich cultural heritage and history.

Summer camps, family trips and educational tours have been the primary forms of tourism this summer, with museum visits becoming a must-do activity for travelers.

Dong Baohou , the deputy director of the Liaoning Provincial Museum, said over 30 percent of visitors were children, some visiting with their families, while others came as part of school groups.

Ma Xiaolin, the curator of Henan Museum, highlighted that museums have been conducting extensive research on cultural relics, making them more relatable and appealing to the public by integrating modern fashion trends.

Besides, the application of new technologies has made cultural relics more accessible. For instance, 3D projection technology breathes life into static exhibits, enabling them to come alive before visitors’ eyes. AR intelligent navigation glasses offer a unique experience by allowing individuals to appreciate relics through voice commands and visual recognition. Additionally, an advanced intelligent lighting system optimally showcases relics, adapting its illumination to the distinct characteristics of each exhibit.

‘Check-in’- style exhibition viewing

Amid the “museum fever”, some tourists prioritize taking photos and sharing them on social media to demonstrate their presence rather than appreciating the exhibits themselves.

Instances of visitors prioritizing photo opportunities over exhibit appreciation have occurred, often causing inconvenience to other museumgoers and, in some cases, damage to exhibits.

According to a report from China Youth Daily, an incident occurred in Nanning city when a young woman tapped a fellow museumgoer on the shoulder and requested that she step aside. The reason for this request was that the young woman and her friends wished to take photos in front of a painting. They proceeded to take turns, with some of them changing outfits and adopting various poses for their photo shoot. This monopolization of the space resulted in extended waiting times for others who also wished to view the painting.

“Some individuals have caused damage to exhibits during their photo shoots,” said Luo Jie, a student from Guangxi University. “They disregarded the ‘No touching’ signs and lean on delicate items, resulting in significant damage and even tearing some exhibits apart.”

Yang Hong, an associate professor at the Communication University of China, said two factors contribute to the phenomenon of “check-in”-style exhibition viewing. First, the desire to generate content for social media has led people to focus on visually appealing scenes for quick photo opportunities. Second, society’s increasing reliance on images has led to a diminished focus on the content and social significance of exhibits.

In the age of prevalent social media, garnering online attention has become the primary objective for many individuals when they pose for “check-in” photos. According to a 2023 museum data report released by the short-video platform Douyin, during the past year, the viewership of museum-related content has increased by 165.97 percent year-on-year, with the sharing of such content surging by 558.52 percent. A total of 1.96 million users have contributed to this trend by posting 4.46 million videos showcasing their museum visits on Douyin. These museum-related videos have effectively become a new avenue for generating online traffic.

Civilized exhibition viewing

Liu Yanchang, the curator of the Shandong Museum, said “In the future, more and more people will take visiting museums as a kind of habit and lifestyle.”

On how to better meet museumgoers’ needs, Sun Mingli, deputy curator of the Suzhou Museum, suggests that popular museums consider implementing hourly booking systems or hosting “cloud exhibitions” to enhance visitor experience.

Some experts emphasize that the public should not view museums solely as tourist attractions or amusement parks. Instead, they should seek to appreciate the deeper meanings behind the exhibits.

Yan Min, an associate professor at Guangxi University, believes that the presence of young people in museums, regardless of their motivations, is an encouraging trend. She contends that viewing exhibitions is a pursuit of beauty that can enhance aesthetics and broaden horizons. The immersive experience of viewing is of greater significance than comprehending the values and connotations.

However, she emphasizes the importance of adhering to museum rules, taking photographs in moderation, and respecting other visitors. Museum staff should also enhance guidance to regulate visitor behavior.

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