Chinese Museums, Closed by the Coronavirus, Put Their Exhibitions Online

Pho­to by Tom Winck­els, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

If you hap­pened to have a trip to Chi­na sched­uled for this time of year, chances are you don’t any­more. Trav­el to and from that coun­try has been severe­ly cur­tailed since the Chi­nese city of Wuhan saw a large-scale out­break of the nov­el coro­n­avirus, about which you can get up to speed through the selec­tion of free online cours­es we fea­tured last week. On an inter­ac­tive web site from Johns Hop­kins you can also keep an eye on the virus’ spread, the range and speed of which reminds us of where the expres­sion “going viral” comes from. But a real, bio­log­i­cal virus at least can’t be trans­mit­ted in the dig­i­tal realm, and so into the dig­i­tal realm some of Chi­na’s attrac­tions have begun to migrate.

“Muse­ums around the coun­try have been forced to tem­porar­i­ly close their doors due to the Wuhan coro­n­avirus out­break,” writes’s Mag­gie Hiu­fu Wong. “In response, Chi­na’s Nation­al Cul­tur­al Her­itage Admin­is­tra­tion (NCHA) has asked them to stay active on social media and offer their ser­vices dig­i­tal­ly.”

And so “many muse­ums have opened the doors of their gal­leries vir­tu­al­ly, includ­ing Bei­jing’s world-famous Palace Muse­um, which sits inside the For­bid­den City.” Though the devel­op­ing online muse­um por­tal at the Nation­al Cul­tur­al Her­itage Admin­is­tra­tion’s web site isn’t avail­able out­side main­land Chi­na, “100 online exhi­bi­tions and gal­leries are linked to from the NCHA web­site — here and here (both in Chi­nese),” acces­si­ble every­where and some­times includ­ing infor­ma­tion in Eng­lish.

The vari­ety of online exhi­bi­tions high­light­ed by Wong includes one at the Palace Muse­um on “how Spring Fes­ti­val was cel­e­brat­ed in the For­bid­den City in ancient Chi­na”; Bei­jing’s Nation­al Muse­um’s “The Jour­ney Back Home: An Exhi­bi­tion of Chi­nese Arti­facts Repa­tri­at­ed from Italy” (a coun­try with coro­n­avirus chal­lenges of its own); Nan­jing Mas­sacre Memo­r­i­al Hall, which “lets online vis­i­tors access the muse­um from the entrance as if they were real­ly there”; and the ter­ra­cot­ta war­riors at the Mau­soleum of Emper­or Qin­shi­huang’s Mau­soleum, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture. These “new online resources also offer cul­ture seek­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence muse­ums in less-vis­it­ed cities, includ­ing his­tor­i­cal­ly rich Wuhan”: Wong names the for­mer Site of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty and the Muse­um of Wuchang Upris­ing of 1911 Rev­o­lu­tion.

The NCHA’s urg­ing of cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions to shore up their pres­ences on the inter­net isn’t the only such mea­sure being tak­en in Chi­na. As the MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review report­ed last month, “Chi­na has launched a nation­al cloud learn­ing plat­form and start­ed broad­cast­ing pri­ma­ry school class­es to ensure the country’s 180 mil­lion stu­dents can still keep learn­ing even though schools are closed.” The tem­po­rary shut­down of schools, muse­ums, libraries, and oth­er such core facil­i­ties of civ­i­liza­tion in not just Chi­na but an increas­ing num­ber of places around the world offers an occa­sion to reflect on the nature of our world in the 21st cen­tu­ry. Unprece­dent­ed inter­con­nect­ed­ness across the globe has made pos­si­ble unprece­dent­ed cul­tur­al, intel­lec­tu­al, and tech­no­log­i­cal exchange across the globe — but of course, there are always some things we’d rather did­n’t spread world­wide.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Inter­ac­tive Web Site Tracks the Glob­al Spread of the Coro­n­avirus: Cre­at­ed and Sup­port­ed by Johns Hop­kins

Free Cours­es on the Coro­n­avirus: What You Need to Know About the Emerg­ing Pan­dem­ic

China’s 8,000 Ter­ra­cot­ta War­riors: An Ani­mat­ed & Inter­ac­tive Intro­duc­tion to a Great Archae­o­log­i­cal Dis­cov­ery

Free: Down­load 70,000+ High-Res­o­lu­tion Images of Chi­nese Art from Taipei’s Nation­al Palace Muse­um

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Brazil’s Nation­al Muse­um & Its Arti­facts: Google Dig­i­tized the Museum’s Col­lec­tion Before the Fate­ful Fire

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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