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Private museums face tough times


In this file photo taken on Feb 9, Wang Yongchao talks to staff members at the Guanzhong Folk Art Museum in Xi’an, capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi province. Ding Haitao / Xinhua

BEIJING - Precious artifacts or beautifully conserved gardens at some private museums may impress you, but behind the exhibits private museum personnel in China are struggling to survive due to a lack of funding and governmental support.

Located in Nanwutai Mountain in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, Guanzhong Folk Art Museum is among the 386 private museums registered officially across the country as of August 2009, accounting for about 13.3 percent of the total number of the country’s museums, according to official statistics.

So far, the Guanzhong museum has operated with a debt of more than 50 million yuan ($7.6 million).

Wang Yongchao, the 55-year-old director of the museum, has devoted his life to sustaining his museum. He has spent more than 330 million yuan of his own money on the 8,600 ancient Chinese hitching posts, which make up only a small part of his collection of 33,600 artifacts.

"Just as businesses do, private museums in China face tightened budgets, staff shortages and keen competition," Wang, also a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), told China Daily during the NPC plenary session that ended in Beijing on Monday.

"We’re involved in a non-profitable career, and we lack government support and preferential policies."

More than 98 percent of the country’s public museums are free to visit and all will be open to the public for free by the end of this year, Ouyang Jian, vice-minister of culture, said at a news conference in February. This will pose further threats to the survival of private museums.

Like Wang, the directors of hundreds of the country’s private museums are facing similar problems in sustaining the operation of their museums.


Guanfu Museum, the first private museum in China and approved by the government in 1996, has been relocated several times from downtown to suburban Beijing.

Ma Weidu, director of the museum and a culture celebrity in China, told Beijing Business Today last year that his museum had finally begun to balance its revenue and expenditure after 13 years of operation.

Ma said private museums in China are facing many dilemmas, including no financial support from the government and no profit due to their identity as museums.

In fact, Guanfu Museum has raised money through many channels, such as corporate sponsorship, celebrity influence and selling naming rights, souvenirs and books, which are hard to duplicate in other private museums.

For Wang, without as eye-catching a reputation as Ma, the revenue of his museum mainly comes from tickets sales, which hit more than 10 million yuan with about 180,000 people visiting in 2009. But the costs of annual investment and maintenance are estimated at more than 30 million yuan.

The museum’s second phase, which was to include the intangible cultural heritage, such as ancient wedding and funeral ceremonies, has been paused due to lack of funds.

Even before the opening of his museum in December 2008, his antique collection had been misunderstood by many people because China had no detailed laws permitting personal trading in antiques.

Wang and his helpers have been caught by the police many times as suspicious smugglers of cultural relics and his relics buying and transportation must be carried on at night or buried temporarily underground.

During this year’s NPC session, Wang suggested that the government should encourage social capital to establish private museums with preferential measures such as subsidies on interest payments.

Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, also said recently that governments should increase subsidies to private museums and improve related taxation policy, and encourage social organizations and individuals to get involved in the development of private museums.

Source: Xinhua News

Source: China Daily
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