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Brief Published: 13 Mar 2020

China’s Museums Go Digital to Engage At-Home Audiences

China’s public-facing cultural institutions are turning to digital tools to engage audiences maintaining social distances. 

M Woods

In January, China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA), which oversees its museums and art institutions, encouraged venues to devise virtual methods of interaction – allowing them to maintain a public image while premises are closed, and provide mentally stimulating activities that support citizens’ wellbeing. The NCHA created an online portal to host virtual exhibits from across the country. People can learn about Neolithic pottery through a point-and-click walk from the Shaanxi History Museum, which lets users zoom in for 3D close-ups, or take immersive tours of Beijing’s Palace Museum, exploring 360° renderings of the space.

Meanwhile, independent Beijing gallery M Woods is co-ordinating a multi-platform exhibition titled Art is Still Here: A Hypothetical Show for a Closed Museum, which showcases works addressing themes such as isolation, kinship and ecology – new pieces are added every few weeks. Other museums are turning to games to get people involved. In the eastern Jiangsu province, Suzhou Museum developed several mini games where users assemble furniture from the Ming era or choose from pre-set drawings to create a digital scroll painting to send to a friend.

A blend of these two strategies can be seen in the rise of videos posted to Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) from museums worldwide. Nine cultural institutions that had to close due to quarantine measures enlisted curators to take viewers on video tours that lasted up to an hour and could be discovered through the hashtag cloud tour.