The Chinese Government Is Directing Museums to Adopt Online-Only Shows as the Coronavirus Rages

Though museums remain shuttered, the state hopes to promote virtual tourism.

The Palace Museum is now offering an online-only animated panorama of the famed site. Photo by Du Yang/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images.

As the coronavirus death toll in China continues to climb at an alarming rate, travel restrictions, quarantine rules, and bans on public gatherings have left the country’s museums looking like ghost towns.

Two highly anticipated museum openings have already been postponed, and just south of the border with Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous state has closed all its public institutions.

Now, in an effort to keep collections visible, the mainland Chinese state has directed institutions to beef up their social media presences and offer digital or virtual experiences.

A letter issued by the government last month directs museums to “enrich the people’s spiritual and cultural life during the epidemic” with “cloud exhibitions” based on planned gallery programming.

Museums now offering online experiences include the Chongqing China Three Gorges Museum, the Chongqing Natural History Museum, and the National Museum in Beijing, which has a show about Chinese artifacts repatriated from Italy available for online browsing.

Those interested in seeing the famed terracotta warriors from Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum can now also do so online. And the Palace Museum in Beijing is also offering an animated panoramic view of the palace, although it is unclear if the panorama was launched before the coronavirus outbreak.

A screen shot of the Palace Museum's interactive web page.

A screen shot of the Palace Museum’s interactive web page.

Just this morning, the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing announced it would close through the month of February in compliance with safety measures, noting that the building is being sterilized every 24 hours per government requirements.

The institution has also closed its UCCA Kids locations in Beijing and Shanghai, with employees working remotely until at least February 10. Planned exhibitions will be rescheduled.

The fate of Art Basel Hong Kong remains unclear, as international dealers urge the organizers to cancel the event, while local gallerists demand the opposite.

Beijing Gallery Weekend has postponed its upcoming 2020 edition, originally slated to take place in March. Organizers said the event would be tentatively rescheduled for mid-April, but that the event could still be entirely cancelled, according to ARTnews.

Meanwhile, travel bans have been affecting artists. This week, artists Xiao Ke and Zi Han were blocked from boarding a flight to Australia, where they were scheduled to perform at the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts. Australia, which has 14 reported cases of the virus, has banned non-citizens from traveling to the country from mainland China.

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