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China sets trend in museum culture

THE Shenzen History Museum hosts five permanent exhibition halls.

MWAZIPEZA CHANDA, Shenzhen
CHINA’S “museum culture” has been hailed as having given a boost to cultural development around the world.
China is home to over 4,165 museums and their collections are diverse – there are the traditional displays of local human development and culture such as the Neolithic tools and the unique terracota warriors, but there are also museums that pay homage to companies such as beer brewers or financial institutions.
According to Xinhua news agency, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Irina Bokova said she was impressed by China’s drive to promote its cultural diversity through establishment of museums.
She was speaking on the the sidelines of the inaugural UNESCO High Level Forum on Museums held in Shenzhen, in South China’s Guangdong Province recently.
“I think it is very emblematic that we have this conference in Shenzhen and China, because in China there are more than 4,000 museums, and this is something that is still developing,” Ms Bokova said.
“There is much more thinking about the role of museums and the achievement of this forum is precisely to give this modern vision about museums.”
On the opening of the forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping said museums are important places that protect and pass on human civilisations, as well as bridges that link the past, the present and the future, play a special role in promoting the exchanges and mutual learning of the world’s civilisations.
Mr Xi said in recent years, Chinese museums have made continuous progress in building of facilities, protection and research of collections, exhibitions and granting free admission, as well as in serving the public’s needs and promoting cultural exchanges.
Shenzen is a fairly young city that has enjoyed rapid development in the past three decades and its museum boasts of exhibitions that cover the ancient history of the fishing town, spanning about 6,000 years to the over 1,700 years’ county administration, and the immigration history of the Cantonese and Hakka peoples.
The original Shenzhen Museum was established on October 17, 1981 but did not have an exhibition site. Its construction started in February 1984, and opened to the public in November 1988. Construction of the larger and new museum started in 1998 and was completed in December 2008.
The former museum was renamed Ancient Art Museum, displaying cultural relics, archaeological specimen and folk culture relics. The new museum is called History Museum, and exhibits the history and folk culture of Shenzhen, in which there is the exhibition of Shenzhen’s Reform and Opening Up History. The new and old museums are operating simultaneously, promoting the rich cultural heritage of the city.
The Shenzen History Museum hosts five permanent exhibition halls – ancient history, modern history, folk culture and a children’s hall – that aim to give young children an enriching education on China’s culture and history.
The Exhibition of the Reform and Opening Up offers a rich insight into the journey that the Chinese people made from humble farming and fishing backgrounds to prosperous modern cities under the guidance of the Communist Party of China.
At a time when China was seeking to modernise itself, Shenzen was seen as a trailblaser with the establishment of the Shenzen Special Economic Zone in May 1980 that saw massive construction and urban infrastructure projects.
Labourers saw themselves working in difficult conditions for little pay under the spirit of “opening up a blood road” – an essential life line to boost the modernisation and economy of the country.
Thanks to the museums, their contribution and sacrifice will never be forgotten.
The exhibit has statues, photographs and portraits that depict how women and men worked together to achieve the goal of building an industrial base that took advantage of its geographical location.
On one wall there is an impressive photograph of an “army of women” in factory suits smiling and marching towards an unseen destination.
Since the establishment of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone by Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of China’s Reform and Opening Up, Shenzhen has grown into a beautiful international metropolis from a small border county, which has been known as a “Chinese Miracle”.
The development and achievement of Shenzhen is a reflection of China’s historic transformation since the reform and opening-up period.
The second floor of the museum also displays relics, art and models of the Kowloon Sea Battle in Shenzhen, and the opening skirmish to the Opium War unveils the history of modern China. The exhibition of modern Shenzhen mainly presents the city’s history spanning from Kowloon Sea Battle in 1839 to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The exhibits narrate China’s struggle and fight against invasion, feudalism and crony capitalism; while also telling the story of the development of social economy and ordinary people’s life.
Museums play an important part in bringing to life and preserving the history of many cultures and China has been able to tap into its rich cultural heritage by promoting the establishments in many provincial centres.
Recalling her own visits to museums across China, the UNESCO head called them “the embodiment of China that is both ancient with a long history, and also very modern and dynamic,” according to Xinhua.
She noted that Chinese museums feature collections that are testament to the long traditions of China.
Ms Bokova also added that UNESCO and China have been working very closely in the cultural sector.
Many Chinese cities have been involved with UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network Programme, which was created in 2004 to promote co-operation among cities that have creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.
She told Xinhua that a whole list of Chinese cities is part of the drive to promote cultural industries and contribute to the development of both economic growth and inclusiveness.
According to UNESCO, in the past 40 years, the number of museums across the globe has more than doubled. Not only do museums ensure preservation of common heritage and enhance the cultural lives of communities and countries, they also showcase cultural diversity and contribute to global tourism and local economies.
Recognising that museums play important social, educational and economic roles, this year’s forum discussed new museum sector trends and public policies, the protection of cultural property and collections, the ethical and technological standards for museums, and how better to engage and benefit communities.
The Chinese government plans to spend three billion yuan (US$444 million) a year to fund free admission to its museums across the country, said Liu Yuzhu, head of the China State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
Around 200 new museums are opening every year and there is now one museum for every 290,000 Chinese people with the ultimate goal to bring the ratio to one for every 250,000 Chinese by 2020, and attract 800 million visitors each year.
“While promoting equality and expanding coverage, the government will build museums in poor and remote areas and regions inhabited by ethnic minorities,” Mr Liu told Xinhua, “as well as setting up mobile and digital museums in communities, schools and remote areas.”
Museums can provide a platform to showcase the best of humanity and stir a love for tradition, heritage, culture and patriotism while spurring future innovation.



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