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Zhang Peng: China's museum 'brother'

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-05-19 10:17

BEIJING - On the east side of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the National Museum of China draws crowds with its rich cultural relics and artworks. But the world's largest museum also boasts a "living treasure" - Zhang Peng, China's most famous museum interpreter.

After 15 years as a volunteer interpreter, Zhang has a large following in the museum and on social media. People ask for his duty roster in order to catch his tours. His book on the Forbidden City has sold out in downtown bookstores. Running children keep quiet when he starts speaking. They address the 34-year-old as "Brother".

Zhang started volunteering in 2003, when he was a law student at university. Unlike his schoolmates who looked for internships, he spent his time in museums. Born in Shaanxi Province, home of relics such as the terracotta army, Zhang loved learning about culture and history.

He recalls being mesmerized by treasures he had seen only in textbooks on his first visit to the National Museum. Zhang learned his guide was a volunteer and he immediately delivered his resume. Two months later, he had a volunteer job.

Every weekend, he would rise early, and take a two-hour bus trip from his campus to the museum. He would interpret for four or five hours, and head home after dark.

"I like being close to these precious relics. It's fantastic," he says, "and it is free."

Sometimes he also volunteers in other museums including the Forbidden City and the China Millennium Monument. He continued volunteering after starting a paid job.

In 2009, he won a national museum interpreter competition, which brought him national acclaim and accolades such as "Beijing May Fourth Medal", the highest honor for young Beijingers.

Chinese museum interpreters have long been stereotyped as guides who stand firm, recite their scripts monotonously, and have little personal interaction with their audience.

However, Zhang believes he has a responsibility to show that a museum interpreter can be a good speaker and inspire people with a desire to learn.

Zhang asks questions to involve his audience and enriches official scripts with interesting stories or academic arguments, encouraging audiences to think.

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