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Opinion: Why Chinese Museums Struggle to Export Exhibitions

Gong Xin, museum curator at the Shanghai Museum, explains how bureaucracy and a culture of snobbery holds cultural institutions back from producing world-class exhibitions.

"Chinese museum curators hold a monopoly over the use of the museum’s collections. They alone reserve the right to bring artifacts out of storage. Others in the museum hierarchy therefore submit to the curators’ authority, because they lack comprehensive knowledge of what’s in the collection and what’s not. This attitude on the part of curators is a form of snobbery, as it implies that the primary function of a museum lies in the study of individual objects and not in public education. It also contravenes the Chinese government’s 2015 regulations aimed at remodeling the country’s museums as public service institutions.

Most Chinese museums separate the functions of research, education, and exhibition. Research departments deal with the artifacts, while the other departments worry about visitor numbers. Researchers — usually specialists in bronzes, ceramics, painting, or calligraphy — never communicate directly with visitors and usually care little for their needs."

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