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Museums key to preserving past
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-13 01:05

Museums must play an active part in preserving and protecting the nation's intangible heritage from the threat of cultural homogenization, a senior local official said Wednesday in Beijing.

"Museums have traditionally been a space in which material evidence of the past is collected, conserved and displayed,'' said Beijing Cultural Relics Bureau Vice-Director Shu Xiaofeng. "However, the practices, ideas, knowledge and skills associated with these objects have received little attention for a long time.''

"Although the concept of heritage has been dominated by its tangible embodiments, intangible representations are undoubtedly an essential part of any civilization."

While speaking at a press conference to promote International Museum Day, which falls annually on May 18, Shu said that intangible heritage includes performing arts, oral history, literature and artifacts that create links to the past.

"I believe that the issue of intangible heritage is one of the most important areas for the museum profession to explore in the years ahead," Shu said.

Shu added that several activities such as open days, exhibitions, lectures and workshops will be held between May 15 and 21 as part of the promotion.

"Several traditional music and dance performances, which are parts of this intangible cultural heritage, will be staged at the opening ceremony on May 15," he said.

"We will also invite several renowned experts to determine the authenticity of paintings, ceramics and other relics that people bring to us."

He said that the activities will be held on May 15 and 16 at the Working People's Cultural Palace.

Bureau Director Mei Ninghua said that museums, acting as principal custodians of tangible heritage, should make greater efforts in the collection, conservation, presentation and interpretation of intangible heritage.

However, he expressed deep concerns about lacklustre attendance of late at the city's museums.

"Generally speaking, the ticket sales can hardly maintain the museums daily operational costs at present,'' Mei said. "Beijing residents do not seem to be interested in museums nowadays."

"Part of the reason is that exhibitions in most museums are old-fashioned and dull, but I think that the ways that Beijingers spend their spare time is the most important reason," Mei noted.

"Most Beijing residents usually choose natural attractions or amusement if they go out for entertainment. But things are different in foreign and several domestic cities."

For instance, Mei said that the Palace Museum had held an exhibition of precious paintings, but few people attended the show.

But when the same paintings were sent and showcased in Shanghai several months later, people there queued in line waiting for tickets despite the rainy weather.

"Beijing badly needs to promote its museum culture, although the city already has 125 museums at present and has taken the lead in museum construction around the country," Mei said.

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