Under the “guard” of the Palace Museum, which houses and manages the Forbidden City, the nearly-six-century-old cultural heritage site has repeatedly made headlines in recent years by “opening up more” and gaining the acclaim of young generations.
Now Shan Jixiang, after seven years of service, has officially retired as the curator. He turned over the role on April 8 to Wang Xudong, former director of Dunhuang Academy overseeing Mogao Grottoes.
A more ‘open’ palace
Shan, born in 1954, was the sixth curator of the Palace Museum. In the first year taking the office, he spent five months walking through 9,371 rooms in 1,200 buildings and wearing out more than 20 cloth shoes.
He found that the world’s largest imperial palace only opened 30 percent of its areas to the public, and 99 percent of 1.86 million cultural relics slept in the warehouse.
The thorough inspection spurred him to change the situation and made “opening the Palace Museum up more” his goal.
By the end of 2018, the open area had grown from 52 percent in 2014 to 80 percent, and 8 percent of cultural relics had been exhibited. And the information of 1.86 million cultural relics was put online in 2017, stimulating traffic on the museum’s official website to reach 891 million users.
He also encouraged visitors to taste more of the culture by holding more exhibitions.
In September 2017 alone, the Palace Museum held seven exhibitions, and from the latter half of 2019 to the end of 2020, it will hold dozens of shows ranging from calligraphy, paintings and imperial culture, to festivals, traditions and archaeological discoveries.
Palace becomes a repetitive topic maker
The museum made great efforts in creating many firsts and developing its own cultural and creative industry under Shan’s lead.
This year, it unprecedentedly held an exhibition themed in celebration of Spring Festival, and was dressed up with decorative lanterns, New Year paintings, and spring couplets according to the imperial festive traditions about a century ago.
The show not only displayed as many as 886 cultural relics like never before, but also invited more than 140 Chinese time-honored brands to set up their booths at a fair inside the Palace Museum, making it the largest ever exhibition since the establishment of the museum.
Later on February 19-20, the museum celebrated the Lantern Festival by, for the first time, lighting up with hundreds of red lanterns and LED lights during free night tours offered to the public.
The museum and its events have drawn so much attention that on April 2 a pair of historically duplicating Heavenly Lanterns, which decorated the museum during Spring Festival, was auctioned for 10.6 million yuan (1.58 million U.S. dollars).
The popularity of the Palace Museum has extended from offline to online, as its miscellaneous cultural and creative products including cosmetics and home care and stationery products grabbed young generations’ hearts.
That was typified when two kinds of lipstick produced by two different companies both boasting they were authorized by the museum triggered a widespread war of words online.
Official data shows that the sales of cultural creative products hit 1.5 billion yuan (0.2 billion U.S. dollars) in 2017.
Shan becomes popular
The museum’s reforms were partially attributed to its biggest salesman Shan Jixiang, who delivered nearly 2,000 lectures totaling 2,000 hours in the first six years of his service.
The reformer, who called himself the museum’s “guard,” wished to become a Palace Museum volunteer commentator after retirement.
Social media users praised his contributions on retirement. An Internet user named “Wenmiaoqifu” said, “He is a good director (curator) of the people. He did many tangible things.”
Another named “Wenqi’an” said, “Because of you, young generations love the Palace Museum and its brand more.”