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Museums in rural areas keep culture relevant

China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-05 09:11
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CHANGCHUN — Museums are usually associated with gigantic buildings, eye-catching highlights and massive collections in bustling downtown areas. However, many museums dedicated to unique local culture can now be found in China's vast rural areas.

Located near a wide stretch of cornfields in Xinjia village is a museum focusing on Mahu Opera, a traditional art of the Manchu ethnic group in Northeast China.

Developed on a site formerly used as a primary school, this museum has five exhibition rooms with nearly 2,000 objects on display, including manuscripts, masks, costumes, instruments and books, most of which were donated by Wang Songlin, a local inheritor of intangible cultural heritage.

"By exhibiting them in the village, I hope that more people will get to know about this fading ancient form of art that originated in the region, while also helping boost the aesthetic interest of more farmers," says Wang.

Besides artifacts related to Mahu Opera, other old objects in the museum collected from local people, such as traditional farming implements, also reflect the history of this village in Shuangyang district in the city of Changchun, Northeast China's Jilin province.

"I never thought these obsolete items could be used. If they weren't in the museum, they might have been discarded already," says a villager.

In Xinjia village, which has a population of only about 2,800, there are now five museums built near local dwellings.

Museums not only function as cultural centers for villagers in rural regions, helping them learn more about the past and record local history, but can also encourage tourists from cities to visit.

"Through the construction of museums, we hope to promote the development of cultural tourism in our village. We aim to deliver a better living environment and also higher incomes to villagers," says Sun Ying, Party chief of Xinjia village.

Shuangyang district, which has a 300-year history of deer breeding, has a sika deer museum. Wandering through the 7,200-square-meter building, people can learn in detail about the local history and tradition of raising deer, and its development.

"We intend to preserve the cultural roots of Shuangyang and let people know about its splendid culture. People here have gone through hardships in developing the deer industry, and we need to pass on this spirit to future generations through the museum," says Lu Junsen, a founder of the museum.

The Mahu Opera and sika deer museums are among the achievements of a rural museum construction project in Jilin province, which was initiated in 2016. So far, 91 museums have been built in rural areas in the province.

In 2021, China started to develop Jilin, Zhejiang and Shandong into pilot provinces for constructing rural museums.

East China's Zhejiang province issued a guideline for the construction of rural museums in April 2022. It provides standards for construction, operation and management, and also calls for cultural heritage administrative departments and State-owned museums to strengthen management and support the construction of rural museums.

According to the guideline, Zhejiang plans to build 1,000 rural museums from 2021 to 2025. As of Sept 30,2023, a total of 692 rural museums had been built in the province, according to the provincial cultural heritage administration.

While modernizing its rural regions, China is also seeking solutions to preserve the distinct history and vibrant culture of different regions, with the building of rural museums being an important part of this strategy.

Rural museums, integrated into the daily lives of residents, provide a space for leisure and entertainment, and can help enhance understanding of local history and identity, says Hao Dayong, director of Shuangyang district's cultural heritage administration.

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