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What we know about Chinese museums?

Yu Zhang, founder and CEO of Yu Culture, lectures regularly at conferences on the development of Chinese museums to an international and professional public, for example, ICEE (ICOM International Committee for Exhibition Exchange) 2016 conference in Milan, Italy (July 2016), SITEM (Salon international des musées, des lieux de culture et de tourisme) in Paris, France (January 2017 ) and MuseumNext Europe in Rotterdam, Netherlands (June 2017).

She also contributes to newspapers and magazines on news about Chinese museums (read her latest report on the business of international exhibitions in China in L’Hebdo du Quotidien de l’Art). In 2018, she has co-authored with Sofia Bollo, a paper entitled “Policy and Impact of Public Museums in China: Exploring New Trends and Challenges”, which was recently published in ICOM’s scholarly magazine Museum International. The article is currently accessible for free on the publisher’s website.

In a commercialised and globalised China, museum institutions are pivotal elements in public strategies to present and create national self‐consciousness, insofar as their vast collections provide symbols of cultural identification on a national as well as an international level. This article will explore Chinese public museum policy and impact, firstly by describing the current status of the system as background information; secondly, by presenting the most recent trends in museum strategies and finally, by replacing the challenges and complexities of the museum system in a broader context. The analysis will draw from first hand material from interviews and informal conversations with museum professionals, small‐scale visitor surveys as well as the most recent facts and figures, and it will be illustrated by examples and supported by secondary sources.

One of her latest presentation was at a workshop on touring exhibitions to and from China, hosted together with Dana Andrew from the UK at the MuseumNext Rotterdam conference in June 2017. You can find Yu and Dana’s presentation here, or Yu’s shortened version offering an overview of Chinese museums as well as touring exhibitions from China below.


Bonus: if you are fluent in French, you can read a brief report on her presentation at SITEM 2017.

Yu started Yu Culture and her daily watch on Chinese museums because of the many myths about museums in China, but are they real?

  • Every week in China, a new museum opens to the public.
  • Chinese museums do not have much to show. There are no collections or exhibitions to fill the new museums.
  • Chinese museums are all about fancy architecture.
  • Money is not an issue for Chinese museums.
  • All Chinese museums are controlled by the government.
  • Chinese museums are not run by professionals.

Indeed, there are as many myths about Chinese museums as about China in general.

There is certainly a communication problem to start with: little information is available out there in English about museums in China. But it is also a real issue with Chinese museums and museum people: they only talk about themselves among themselves.

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