Culture is future » Financing and economic models


Behind the China museum fever

Nearly 100 museums open every year in China since 2000, driven by a strong policy of public investment.

In the 1920s, a Chinese paleontologist, YANG Zhongjian, expressed his regrets over the lack of museums in China during one of his journeys in Europe: "There is not a single day when I don’t feel ashamed of lack of museums in China." Indeed, it was not until 1905 that China had opened her first museum in Nantong, a city in the east coast of the country, and there were only ten museums in China until 1928.

Almost a double in a decade. If he had been still alive, Mr. Yang would have been impressed by the museum boom in China. While the number of museums in China was 2200 in the year 2001, it rose to 3,589 at the end of 2011. Every year, about 100 new museums have opened on average with a peak of 349 new museums opened in 2011, namely one new museum every day! This museum fever which the Western world and Japan had experienced in the 1980s, has seized China today.

5 000 new museums to be built. In the general context of urban expansion in China, the boom in museum construction comes with a strong support from the government. It is a matter of national pride. With the rise of the Chinese economy, Chinese culture is expected to follow a “corresponding rhythm”. The need to catch up seems evident in two ways: on conservation on the one hand, to preserve national works; unearthed by archaeologists, they had undergone severe damages especially during the Cultural Revolution; on the other hand, on public facilities construction. The number of museums per 10 000 persons in China is still very low compared to developed countries (around 1 200 museums in France for 65 million people, i.e. one museum for every 50 000 persons). With a museum for 400 000 people today, we are still lagging behind, said SONG Xinchao, director of Chinese Society Museum. “State Councilor of the Chinese government, Ms. Liu Yandong, recently confided to me that China wants to build 5000 new museums next year.” said Irina Bokova, Director of the Unesco.

The Strategy to invest more in culture. The budget of the Chinese Culture Ministry has been growing constantly. Its growth rate between 2007 and 2013 are eloquent illustrations: +25.9% in 2007, + 24.7% in 2008, +17.9% in 2009, +10.7% in 2010, + 22.5% in 2011, 18.9% in 2012 and +9.3% for 2013. The objective is clear, as the official website of the Ministry of Culture puts it: "The budget for culture should be increased to satisfy the increasing needs of Chinese people."

Innovation and modernization. The ambition is reflected in practice on two main activities: to construct innovative museums and make them attractive to audiences. It also aims to expand the exhibition space: take the National Museum of China as example. After its renovation of nearly four years (2007-2010), it now becomes one of the biggest museums in the world with its 192,000 square meters (The Louvre Museum is 210,000). The diversification of themes: more than just "cultural heritage", museums dedicated to science or transport…are also being built. Finally, the modernization focused on management and visitors-oriented services.

Another axis is to attract visitors. Since 2008, one billion Euros has been allocated by Chinese government in order to support the free entrance policy of museums. First results: more than 2 400 museums are open free of charge to the public, namely more than two-thirds of museums.

Finally, maximizing the outputs of museums by promoting international exchange. Organizing international exhibitions is based on a strategy called "Going out, Inviting in": promoting exchange projects with international museums, while supporting Chinese artists on their show abroad. One thing is certain in culture, China is waking.


Jialong Xu, Olivier Le Guay.



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Photo : kreep on flickr