Forbidden City in drive to bring people closer to traditional culture

Beijing-born photographer Lyu Yang is fascinated by everything about the Forbidden City. The 35-year-old has taken pictures of the century-old imperial complex every week for the past decade, and often volunteers to tell stories about the museum’s history and cultural objects to foreign visitors.

In recent years, the Palace Museum has been revitalized and gained fame online.”China’s economic growth has brought better lives for Chinese people, yet modern life has alienated many from traditional culture. What the museum has done is to creatively attract people to get closer to traditional treasures,” said Lyu.

Public access

In 2012, curator Shan Jixiang launched a comprehensive field research project on the museum.

As the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, the museum is among the most visited attractions in the world.

“But do these facts matter?” Shan said in a recent interview with Xinhua. “If 70 percent of its space is not open to the public and 99 percent of its relics are not showcased to patrons…it is not a museum that people can enjoy from the bottom of their hearts.”

In five years, the museum has increased the proportion of the area of the Forbidden City open to the public to 76 percent. The 2,800-square-meter Yan Chi building of Wu Gate used to be a storehouse, but has now been renovated into an exhibition hall to showcase precious historical relics from other countries.

The first exhibition of Afghan cultural relics in China as well as exhibitions featuring French jewelry from the 18th century and cultural relics from the Maritime Silk Road have been held this year.

“We have built 20 viewing platforms that enable visitors to ascend to the top to take a close look at the structure of ancient buildings and the delicate paintings on them. We have even opened the walls to the public so tourists can look out over the Forbidden City and watch a 25-minute VR film to learn how the Palace Museum was built from thousands of pieces of wood and without even one single nail,” said Shan.

Sharing experience

After visiting many countries with ancient civilizations, Shan came to realize that all cultural traditions are passed down through generations and deserve respect.

“Every single person in the world is responsible for protecting and preserving cultural relics and passing on cultural diversity. However, many glorious civilizations have faced various threats,” said Shan.

In 2015, Shan went to Afghanistan, but was unable to visit local historical relics because of social unrest.

That’s when he got the idea to build a dialogue platform for countries with ancient civilizations to work to preserve them despite natural disasters, war, terrorism, illegal sales and improper protection methods.

With the support of the Chinese government, the first and second Taihe Forum were held in Beijing on two consecutive years starting in 2016. The theme of this year’s forum was “Echoes of the Ancient Civilizations”. Delegates from 21 countries and three international organizations attended.

Shan said that the museum has sponsored a Taihe Forum Fund to provide academic and technical support for countries like Syria and Iraq facing war and terrorism, or those that have faced natural disasters, such as Mexico.

Olga Orive, an archeologist and member of the Executive Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS, Mexico), was impressed by the restoration skills of the museum.

“Similarly, we have a ‘relics hospital’ in Mexico, but our techniques, equipment and specialized conservators are in short supply. Mexico and China should collaborate more in such fields,” said Orive.

Maintaining diversity

“The Palace Museum has built a communication mechanism for all countries. Three decades ago, you could hardly imagine conservation experts talking about how to combat threats together,” said Giora Solar, Israeli architect and urban planner and a member of ICOMOS. “Such exchanges are quite necessary in a globalized era.”

Maintaining cultural diversity under globalization faces growing challenges, and countries have tried to find their own methods for preservation.

The Papantla Indigenous Art Center in Mexico is one such attempt. The center consists of 16 “house-schools,” each specializing in one of the arts of the Totonac people, including ceramics, textiles, painting, the art of healing, and traditional dance.

In 2012, the center was added to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices for intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

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