Palace Museum, located in the center of Beijing, is one of the most popular places for people, from home and abroad, to visit when they come to the Chinese capital. Netizens are interested in beautiful photos, taken by professional photographers, when they visit the museum; some cultural products on the museum's Taobao store sell out soon after they are displayed online; humorous articles on the museum's WeChat account go "viral;" and, the exhibitions and foods in the museum win high praise from visitors. Simply put, the Palace Museum, the architectural complex, which has been well maintained during the past 600-plus years, is widely regarded by netizens as a cultural symbol. Palace Museum, which resembles a huge map of treasures, is a marvelous reception hall that opens its "arms" to welcome guests from around the world. The ancient and respectable place continues to grow in popularity.
Palace Museum was established in 1925, and it formally opened to the public on October 10 that year. The museum contains the imperial palaces of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The magnificent architectural complex, also known as the Forbidden City, and the vast holdings of paintings, calligraphies, ceramics and antiquities of the imperial collections make Palace Museum one of the most prestigious museums in China — and the world. In 1961, the State Council of China designated the former imperial residence as one of China's foremost-protected cultural heritage sites. In 1987, it was listed as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site.
Today, the largest — and completely preserved — complex of ancient Chinese imperial palaces attracts more than 15 million visitors every year.
Almost all of the visitors respect the Palace Museum for its long history, and for the charm of its architecture and collections. In recent years, the museum has become more appealing, especially since Shan Jixiang became director and implemented a series of measures to improve the museum's facilities and services provided to visitors.
Shan, who calls himself the "doorkeeper" of Palace Museum, assumed his position at the beginning of 2012. At that time, he made a grand wish: Ensure the marvelous Forbidden City will keep its charm for another 600 years. Wearing a pair of cloth shoes, he walked through the museum and inspected everything carefully, even the small, non-eye-catching corners of the site. After that, he made several seemingly "small" changes that had a huge impact on the museum's development.
Motor vehicles are no longer permitted to enter the Palace Museum. The number of daily visitors permitted in the museum for sightseeing is strictly limited to less than 80,000.
In June 2015, the Palace Museum, which had been open for 90 years, formally launched its visitors-control policy. Since then, the number of visitors to the museum, per day, has not exceeded 80,000. In addition to controlling the number of daily visitors, the museum has added ticket windows to make it more convenient for visitors to buy tickets. Later, the museum established its online ticket selling system. Since October 10, 2017, the majority of Palace Museum's entrance tickets have been purchased online.
Facilities in the Palace Museum have also been improved. For example, on May 18, 2016, the lights installed in the six major palaces along the museum's axle wire were turned on for the first time. Since then, visitors have been able to see much the layout of the palaces more clearly.
Also, women once had to queue for a long time to use a public toilet in the museum. Noticing the problem, Shan decided to add more public toilets especially for women. Now, the ratio of toilets for men to women is 1:2.6. A dining hall, for the museum's staff, was transformed into a public toilet for women.
In the past, visitors had nowhere to sit and rest during their tour of the museum. Now, the museum has 1,400 benches, scattered throughout the museum.
In 2015, the sightseeing areas were expanded in the western section of Palace Museum. Several venues, including the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cining Gong) and the Palace of Longevity and Health (Shoukang Gong), formally opened to the public. Those palaces used to be residences of empress dowagers and concubines of emperors. They had built many gardens and Buddhist prayer rooms in those palaces. Shan compares the newly opened region to the "world for retired women."
"Palace Museum run" refers to the phenomenon that visitors have to rush to some venues to see the most popular and/or temporarily exhibited antiques. The museum has constantly expanded the number of areas open to the public, so visitors can appreciate, as much as possible, the charm of the Forbidden City. The "world for retired women" has become an important venue for holding large-scale exhibitions.
Palace Museum's staff, headed by director Shan, has put a lot of effort into protecting the environment, architecture and collections of the museum. Visitors can enjoy high-quality sightseeing experiences in the museum, which has beautiful green lands, red walls and yellow-glazed-tile roofs.
Other measures have been taken to ensure the charm of the Palace Museum will last another 600 years. For example, a project entitled "Safe Museum, Secure Palace" was launched to enhance the security of the Forbidden City. An antiques' "hospital" was established to ensure more than 1.8 million cultural relics are well maintained. A great number of cultural products, which highlight the Palace Museum's cultural and artistic values, have been designed and produced. A digital program was launched to teach children the history and culture of the Forbidden City. New media products and a series of documentaries, entitled Masters in the Forbidden City, were produced to promote the museum to netizens, especially young people. Academic organizations were established and new exhibition areas were opened to deepen the studies about the Palace Museum.
Palace Museum will mark its 100th anniversary in 2025. Given the efforts made by people who work in the museum, the Palace Museum will keep its vigor and charm for people to cherish and appreciate, from generation to generation.
Becoming an 'Internet Celebrity'
The Palace Museum would not be popular with netizens without the museum's director Shan. He has guided the museum's employees as they have promoted the museum on the Internet. "If we want more young people to pay attention to the museum, and if we want to promote traditional Chinese culture to them, we should promote (the museum) in a way that the youth will accept it," says Shan. The museum has become more popular with young netizens in recent years.
The museum's IT, imaging, and digital media department, composed of eight members, is responsible for developing and managing the museum's official website, Weibo and WeChat accounts and mobile applications.
Guo Ting, the team's leader, is a Beijing woman who has loved the museum since she was young. Guo began working at the museum in 2002. At that time, she was responsible for managing and maintaining the museum's official website. Guo in 2013 established the museum's official Weibo account, to show the museum's abundant collection of resources, so the public could have a comprehensive understanding of the museum.
She posted text and photos via Weibo for the first time on July 17, 2013. She posted photos of the architectural elements of the palaces, and she wrote: "There is a kind of beauty that can stand the test of time, and we stand still to enjoy (the beauty)." The team still posts short, but artistic, texts via Weibo.
The team's members are devoted to showing the "elegant" and "lovely" Palace Museum to the public via its Weibo and WeChat accounts. The museum's official Weibo account has more than 5.7 million followers.
"We once posted some texts with the tags 'Talking about bright and beautiful in spring days,' 'Talking about cool and refreshing in summer days,' 'Talking about color on autumn days' and 'Talking about warmth on winter days' via Weibo, to introduce the museum's collections. We also post texts with the tag 'Falling in love with the city' regularly, and we post some photos of the museum's beautiful scenery. The beautiful scenery and exquisite collections of the museum have attracted many netizens," says Guo.
Photographs and the new media go hand in hand.
Zhang Lin manages the museum's Weibo and WeChat accounts, and he is one of the museum's photographers. Many netizens have been following Zhang via Weibo because they love the photos he has taken at other museums in China.
At first, Zhang thought the Forbidden City was an ancient place that had a history of 600-Plus years. He preferred to take photos of shabby areas of this place. However, he realized the shabby area was only a part of the museum, and that the museum also had a beautiful natural landscape. He has taken many photos of the beautiful scenery at the museum, including the magnolia flowers that bloom in spring, fish that swim among water lilies, yellow leaves on the trees in autumn and the palaces covered with heavy snow.
The photos with which he is most satisfied are the photos of the palaces, covered with snow, which he shot in 2015. It had snowed the previous night and the sky had cleared up during the day. It was Monday, and the museum was closed. Zhang and another photographer took photos of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Dian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghe Dian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohe Dian). "We stood under the Gate of Supreme Harmony. The square of the Hall of Supreme Harmony was covered with snow, even under the sun. It was such a beautiful scene," says Zhang.
The photos of the palaces covered by snow were reposted, via Weibo, by more than 200,000 netizens. Since then, if the weather forecast predicts it will snow in Beijing, many netizens will urge him to take photos of the snow-capped palaces.
Every spring, photos of the blooming flowers in the museum are posted via Weibo. The photos are popular with netizens. In the past, Zhang knew little about flowers. Now, he is familiar with the flowers in the museum. He even remembers the locations of the flowers. The sentence — "Hello, July" — was posted on the museum's Weibo account on July 1, 2018. As Guo expected, many netizens reposted it because it was an image of a magpie standing on a palace lantern. Many netizens referred to the magpie as "a longhair girl who wears a school uniform."
The team's members now have much experience in choosing photos that will resonate with netizens. Each text is checked three times before it is posted via the Weibo account. "A person cannot represent the Palace Museum. The sentences should be stated in a relaxed tone. We cannot use a long statement," says Guo.
The museum's employees began building a mobile application for the museum during the second half of 2012. Zhuang Ying, then-editor of the museum's English website, was a member of the app-building team.
"Our first app was planned to introduce collections of the museum to the users. We hoped to identify an entry point, through which we could attract more people to pay attention to the deep culture of the Forbidden City," recalls Zhuang.
Twelve Beauties of Prince Yong, the museum's first app, was released in May 2013. The app was based on the study of Twelve Beauties of Prince Yong (a set of screen paintings), which had been conducted by experts in the museum. Through the app, users can get a glimpse of the exquisite, elegant life of the court ladies in the imperial family. The interactive experience guides users through 12 meticulously depicted scenes in which accessories, furniture and objects for interior decoration aptly illustrate the raison d'être of some of the museum's highly idiosyncratic collections. More than 200,000 users downloaded the app in the first two weeks after it was released.
To date, the museum has developed and released nine apps. Many of the apps introduce the museum's valuable collections to the public. The Palace Museum Community, the ninth app, was released on May 18 (International Museum Day), 2017. As an online cultural community, the app provides an original cultural experience and a sustainable cultural ecosystem to its users. Followers are able to explore a multipurpose space. The app includes an information-release platform, where users can find everything they need to know about the museum, including the collections, architecture, exhibitions and visitor services. The app also features a virtual community, which enables users to create their own personal space and interact with "neighbors" on the social network.
Becoming a Lifestyle
The Palace Museum is the first museum, which is popular with its cultural products among visitors, in China's mainland. The Palace Museum Cultural Products and Services Department, responsible for developing cultural and creative products, has invested a lot of time and effort into designing and manufacturing products during the past four years. By the end of 2016, the department had produced 9,170 products. The products include high-end national-level gifts, hardcover books about the museum and exquisite and high-quality articles. The department also produced some "lovely, interesting" articles, including clothes, accessories, home decorations and stationery — that could be used in everyday life. Even though these articles only account for five percent of all the products, they have attracted many customers. Besides the gift stores in the museum, people can also buy the products via the online shop of the museum. In 2016, the income of the products was nearly one billion yuan (US $149 million). Using the products of the museum has become a part of many people's lives.
Some of the museum's products reveal traditional Chinese cultural elements, which can be found in the museum's architecture and/or collections of cultural relics. Some products are closely related to ancient stories that occurred in the Forbidden City, and customers can easily understand the stories represented by the products.
Employees of the department also advertise the cultural products of the museum via the Weibo and WeChat accounts of the museum's online shop. In the texts posted by the Weibo and WeChat accounts, they combine historical stories with the advertisements of the products.
In this way, they not only promote the historical stories of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties to more people, but also advertise the cultural products of the museum. These texts have caught much attention of the public.
Make Friends with Experts, Guests from Around the World
The Palace Museum plays an important role in enhancing China's cultural exchanges with other countries. In recent years, the Palace Museum has launched many programs, and it has held various activities to deepen cooperation with other countries in maintaining and protecting ancient architecture, repairing cultural relics, conducting training with international organizations and carrying out archeological studies.
Foreign Experts' Participation
The Palace Museum's Hospital for Conservation was formally established at the end of 2016. Director Shan says it is a place for "healing the illnesses" of cultural relics. Technicians who work in the "hospital" wear white gowns and look like real doctors.
Before an antique is repaired, the technicians examine the item carefully, like a doctor conducting a physical. They study and analyze the antique's history, texture, structure and components to ensure they will keep the item's original shape and state. A detailed repair plan must be prepared before they start their work. They release a report to the public after they repair the item.
The Hospital for Conservation is an important component of the Palace Museum's "Safe Museum, Secure Palace" initiative. The "hospital" is located near the wall at the western side of the Forbidden City. It encompasses 13,000 square meters of construction areas. Some 200 experts, researchers and technicians, who excel in protecting cultural relics, work in this "hospital."
Before the Hospital for Conservation was established, the Palace Museum, in September 2015, established the International Institute for Conservation's International Training Center for Conservation (IIC-ITCC). The center's aim is to promote academic studies and communications involving the repair and protection of cultural relics, at the international level, and to improve developing countries', especially Asian countries' techniques in repairing and protecting cultural relics.
In 2015, the Palace Museum signed an LOI (letter of intent) with the watch-manufacturing workshop of world-famous brand Cartier. Between February and June last year, the Palace Museum dispatched two groups of technicians to visit Cartier's watch-manufacturing workshop. The technicians took six movements of clocks to the workshop, and they worked with the technicians in the workshop to repair the movements. A documentary was filmed to record the repair process.
The Palace Museum and Cartier's watch-manufacturing workshop will hold an exhibition in the Palace Museum, in the autumn of 2019, to highlight the achievements reached during their cooperation.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) have both established training centers in the Palace Museum. During the past six years, more than 200 people, from 60-plus countries, have received cultural-relic-protection training.
The Palace Museum Research Institute was established in October 2013, to be a comprehensive academic institute for conducting research and exchanges with experts from both home and abroad. It offers a great platform for the museum's full-time and retired experts and scholars to communicate with experts and scholars from other museums and research institutions.
The Palace Museum Institute of Archaeology and the Department of Archaeology of Durham University, the United Kingdom, conducted exchange activities in May 2017. Experts and researchers from both sides discussed archeological approaches as they visited the Palace Museum and the Longquan Cave relics in East China's Zhejiang Province. The cooperation between the Palace Museum and Durham University was an important cultural exchange program between China and the UK.
Build a 'Reception Hall'
In addition to inviting foreign experts and scholars to visit the Palace Museum, and to conduct studies, research and academic exchanges, the Palace Museum also welcomes guests, from around the world, to experience the charm of the Forbidden City.
The Palace Museum hosted the Taihe Forum on Protecting the World Ancient Civilization in September 2017. Officials, experts and scholars from 20 countries (including Afghanistan, Egypt and Ethiopia), as well as representatives from ICOM, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMS), and the UNCESCO World Heritage Committee, attended. They discussed the inheritance and contemporary value of ancient civilization heritage, the archeological studies of ancient civilization and archeology along the ancient Silk Road. The Palace Museum's approaches to and good practices involving the protection of cultural relics were highly praised by participants.
The Palace Museum is an important "reception hall" for high-level visitors, from around the world, to study the ancient history and splendid culture of the Forbidden City.
Between 2015 and the end of 2017, the Palace Museum received 200 groups of State-level guests. The number of those guests exceeded 3,000. In 2017, 12 ambassadors and 48 diplomats, from 16 embassies in Beijing, visited the Palace Museum. The high-level visits laid a solid foundation for enhancing the Palace Museum's communications and cooperation with foreign institutions, and for promoting the charm of the Forbidden City and Chinese culture to more and more places around the world.
Working in Palace Museum Nourishes Volunteer's Heart
Xu Jing, a Beijinger, has worked as a volunteer guide at the Palace Museum for the past year. Each week, she spends a few hours working in the Treasure Gallery (Zhenbao Guan), explaining the exhibits to visitors from home and abroad. The following is Xu's story, in her own words:
I saw the Palace Museum's volunteer-recruitment notice on the museum's Weibo and WeChat accounts in March 2017. I immediately sent my resume. As far as I know, the Palace Museum first posted its recruitment notice in Beijing Evening News in 2004. The first group of volunteers started to work at the Palace Museum the same year. After that, the Palace Museum generally recruited new volunteers every two or three years. But given visitors' increasing need for voluntary guide services, the Palace Museum recruited volunteers both last year and this year. Each volunteer is required to work at a fixed post 36 times per year, and for at least two hours shift.
The recruitment procedures included a test and an interview. I was asked why I wanted to be a volunteer during my interview. I said I was first impressed by a series of documentaries produced by the Palace Museum, entitled Masters in the Forbidden City. I wanted to get closer to the cultural relics and the people who work at the museum. In addition, the Palace Museum is one of the most important cultural symbols of Beijing. As a Beijinger, I believe I shoulder responsibility for helping to promote this place.
Before I formally assumed my post, I received five weeks of training. Volunteers could pick one exhibition venue from among four or five options. Senior guides, who had rich work experience, tested our performances as we provided information about the cultural relics. I began working, as a qualified volunteer guide, at the Treasure Gallery in August last year.
Most of the children born in Beijing have been to the Palace Museum at least once. But I do not have a clear memory of visiting this place during my childhood. I am grateful for having the precious opportunity to work in the Palace Museum. I constantly deepen my understanding of the architecture of and cultural relics in this place. When I explain the exhibits to visitors, I gradually broaden my horizon.
I am moved by senior workers in the museum's publicity and education department. They are professional and amiable. Although we are not full-time employees, they are always willing to give us information and share their work experiences. They tell us the most important thing, for a volunteer, is sharing what we learn with others.
During the past year, I have come to know several volunteers, who are older than 60 and who have worked in the Palace Museum for more than 10 years. They have taught me a wide range of knowledge, which has covered ancient architecture, traditional culture and craft-making techniques. Before I started to work here, I imagined people who worked in the cultural relics studies industry were difficult to approach. Many people may have the same opinion about me. However, it turns out they are very kind and easy to get along with. I was lucky when I met researcher Wang Jin, who works in the Hall of Clocks (Zhongbiao Guan). Wang appeared in the documentary, Masters in the Forbidden City. He answered my questions patiently, and he gave me very helpful advice.
At the beginning of this year, I spent time with a sophomore from Xiamen, in Southeast China's Fujian Province. The student was in Beijing specifically to visit museums. He asked me details about each exhibit in the Treasure Gallery. Some of the exhibits were displayed outdoors. It was cold in the winter. But both of us felt happy as we discussed many interesting things about those cultural relics.
My favorite places in the Palace Museum are the Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshou Gong), in which I work, and the garden of the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cining Gong), in the west. You can see a few sika deer in the garden. The pronunciation of the Chinese word for deer, "lu," is the same as the word for fortune. So, the Palace Museum has a tradition of raising deer, which are auspicious. I particularly like a pavilion in the garden, with a pond in which there are beautiful carp, and the Palace Museum's famous cats. The time I have spent in the Palace Museum has nourished my heart.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly September 2018 issue)