China's Museum Culture Goes Online

As China’s cities develop, many urban leaders are looking to strengthen their cultural offerings as a way to stand out in a crowded field. Nationally as well, the PRC government plans to make the culture industry a pillar of the overall economy and a marker of international prestige. One sign of resolve is the creation of hundreds of new museums across China. Chen Jianming, vice chairman of the Chinese Society of Museums, says that 395 new museums were built in 2011 alone. While many offer free admission and enjoy heavy state subsidies, audience development is a growing challenge, as many Chinese regard visiting museums as more like homework than something fun.

How to change Chinese attitudes? Some software developers think they have the answer.

Tencent, the developer of WeChat, has launched a website that provides virtual tours of one hundred museums across China, while Baidu Baike, a Google-like search engine, launched the Baike digital museum in 2012. The site featured just eight museums initially but now represents thirty and has recorded 5 million visits to date. Museum administrators hope that these tools can increase visits to real-world museums in turn.