China says it will be a ‘museum power’ by 2035


VSHINA A big plans for the year 2035, if they lack some clarity. It will “essentially achieve socialist modernization” by then, whatever that means. Its army will also be modernized. At the end of 2020, he also declared that he would become a cultural and sporting power (isn’t it both already?), And an “educational power” to boot. Last month he declared a new goal: to become a “museum power”. He even gave some details. Between ten and 15 of its museums, he said, would become “world class”.

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China is building museums at a breakneck pace. In 2000, it had fewer than 1,200. At the end of last year, there were almost five times as many. Aided by a decision in 2008 to allow free entry to most government-run establishments, visits have also skyrocketed. By the end of 2019, the annual number had more than quadrupled to 1.2 billion. There was a huge drop last year due to the pandemic, but new museums have still opened at a rate of nearly five a week (officials admit it’s hard to get enough of the good stuff to put there).

The new plan does not name any museums vying for world-class status. But architecturally, several stand out. One is the Ordos Local History Museum, which opened in 2011 in the city of the same name in Inner Mongolia. The huge amorphous blob, covered with polished metal tiles (pictured), is meant to evoke the dunes of the nearby Gobi Desert. In Beijing, the privately owned X Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened last year, is another with a striking new building.

But Chinese museums must be attentive to the wishes of the Communist Party. The plan for 2035 states that the party must exercise “leadership at all levels of museum development”. The document’s list of worthy exhibits includes the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure-building project initiated by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, as well as more universally recognized engineering marvels such as the Great Wall and the Grand Canal.

Officials hope the museums will boost national pride and thereby support the party. Two new museums have opened since 2018 dedicated to China’s claims to the disputed islands of the South and East China Seas. Last year, the National Museum of China held an exhibition on Taiwan, also aimed at supporting China’s assertion of sovereignty over the island. The same museum was the destination of Xi’s first public excursion after taking office as the head in 2012. It was there that he first used what would become his most famous slogan, claiming that there was a “Chinese dream” of renewed national greatness.

Occasionally, individuals dare to open museums that explore sensitive subjects. At the end of April, feminists launched what they described as a single on the subject of “Internet violence.” It was truly a work of art of protest: a hill dotted with 700 violent online messages that had been sent to Chinese women, displayed on red banners for a distance of three kilometers. Photos of this have been posted online, but organizers have remained silent on where it was.

It was only in Hong Kong that museums were allowed to truly challenge the party line. But on June 2, officials shut down a small museum dedicated to the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests on June 4, 1989. They cited a licensing issue. However, the move coincided with the ban on an annual vigil commemorating the bloodshed. In this case, the pandemic was cited as the reason, but many activists fear that the massacre will become taboo in Hong Kong, as it is on the mainland. The general management of the party’s museums could expand into new territory. â– 

This article appeared in the China section of the print edition under the headline “Build big, show little”

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