Museums inspire people to help realize national rejuvenation
Editor's note: Governments at different levels have scrapped the entry fee to museums in order to raise people's cultural confidence, so they can make greater efforts to realize national rejuvenation, writes a veteran journalist with China Daily.
Since I lived within walking distance of the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in Xi'an, which houses thousands of steles, one would expect me to have visited the museum many times as a kid. However, thanks to the 20 cent entrance fee, I often stood in front of the entrance regretting the lack of money. The amount was about enough to buy me food for a day.
Hardly do children nowadays have that regret because the museum now allows free entrance to kids and senior citizens. Statistics from last year show that more than 90 percent of the 6,183 museums in the Chinese mainland can be accessed without paying any entrance fees. These museums hosted about 36,000 exhibitions last year which attracted 779 million visitors. Using new technologies, the museums also held more than 3,000 online exhibitions, attracting about 4.1 billion views.
The rapidly rising number of museum visitors can largely be attributed to the free-entrance policy the country implemented a decade ago. Realizing that raising citizens' cultural confidence plays a vital role realizing national rejuvenation, the central authorities have taken a series of measures to build more museums and make them more accessible to the public.
China did not have any museum in modern sense of the term until 1905 when entrepreneur Zhang Jian established the Nantong Museum in Jiangsu province. After that, a number of important museums were established including the Palace Museum in 1925 and the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in 1944.
The past decade saw the museums in China attract the maximum number of visitors thanks to the central authorities attaching greater importance to the promotion and maintenance of museums. Most public museums under the supervision of the central government have abolished the entrance fees. Inspired by the move, governments at provincial and city levels, too, scraped the entrance fees in museums under their management. As a result, Chinese people can access 5,605 museums for free — far more than in many developed countries.
But to grant free entrance to, and properly maintain, the museums, the central government is spending billions of yuan on subsidies every year, with the local governments spending even more.
Over the past 10 years, one museum has come into being every two days in China — nearly 2,000 museums have been built in the past decade. Apart from governments at different levels, and an increasing number of enterprises and private entities are investing lots of money to build museums or sponsoring similar projects.
A report on museum development published last year said that by 2035, China will have the highest number of museums in the world. Given the rapidly rising rate of museum building and the government's encouraging policies, there is no reason to doubt that. At present, the United States has the highest number of museums: more than 8,000.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted people from traveling long distances, more and more people visited local museums for recreation over the past more than two years. My family and I, for instance, have visited half a dozen museums in Beijing since last year. Among others, the locomotive, aviation, film and weapons museums we visited are all world class.
As some experts say, to ensure the healthy development of museums in China, the government has to ensure its good policies are implemented both in letter and spirit. The government should also provide support for all museums, because while top-level public museums are better placed to get government subsidies, lower-level government, and private museums say they don't get timely and sufficient government support.
The free-entrance policy has understandably led to a dramatic increase in the number of visitors to some museums, which in turn has raised their management costs. As a result, many museums have had to ask visitors to make appointments in advance to control the flow of visitors.
Insiders say the support should tilt toward the "weak" museums while the popular museums should be advised to charge reasonably low entrance fees, in order to help the government keep the subsidies within budget and make free entrance to museums sustainable.
The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.