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February 28, 2014

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Museums adopt technology to popularize culture

Wang Xiaoqi is squatting down with her smartphone while scanning the barcode of a porcelain vase in an exhibition hall at the Nanjing Municipal Museum.

The vase is among more than 40 antiques on display in the museum in Nanjing City, capital of Jiangsu Province. Each antique has a quick response code that details its history when scanned by smartphones.

“I can upload the information on the vase to my microblog and store the description on my phone and study it when I get home,” Wang says.

The museum has just updated the descriptions of the antiques this week, after starting to barcode the collection in mid 2013, according to Wu Tian, the museum’s deputy curator.

“Our visitors have shown great enthusiasm for the program since it began,” Wu says.

According to Wu, young people are interested in sharing information on social networks like WeChat and the museum has made a conscious effort to use technology to provide richer visits for its guests.

Such programs have changed the way people view traditional culture, making it easier for them to accept it, according to Zhou Keda of the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences.

While the novelty might wow visitors, Zhou says the revamp masks a wider and increasingly urgent problem that is playing out in a country awash with modern gadgets like tablets and smartphones.

“Many people have grown bored with the old ways of learning in museums, lectures and classrooms,” Zhou says.

As urgency for change mounts, scores of museums in China are jumping on the bandwagon and applying technology to their exhibits.

Back in May, the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City in Beijing, launched its first iPad application.

It attracted 150,000 downloads within a week. It was later voted “app of the year” in China.

The Palace Museum followed that success with a public account on WeChat last month. It allows followers to enjoy ancient architecture, antiques and special exhibitions on mobile devices.

Elsewhere, a renowned history museum in southwest China’s Shaanxi Province has launched a smartphone application that combines pictures, text and audio.

In addition to high-end technology, experts have come up with a myriad of ways to promote history and culture.

In 2013, a national dictation contest on China Central Television, China’s state broadcaster, fueled a national fervor for writing Chinese characters in various localities.

Other television networks have initiated similar programs about classic poems and riddles.

As modern technology has crept into every facet of life, it is a smart move to create a tie-up between Chinese culture and gadgets, says Gong Liang, curator of Nanjing Municipal Museum.

“We don’t have to pit tradition against modernity, instead, we should use it,” Gong says.

Gong says they are trying to let make culture more approachable through new mediums, referring to the museum’s latest program as “innovative.”

Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, still cautions that people need to cultivate genuine interest in the culture in order for it to thrive.

“Modern means can help popularize traditional culture,” Zhang says, “but what matters eventually is whether people truly understand what it is all about.”


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