In the night, curiosity knocks
China Daily

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The exhibition Arts of the Great Ocean, Pacific Art Collection from the Musee du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac in Paris and the exhibition of 15th century Jingdezhen porcelain at the Shanghai Museum. (Photos: China Daily)

Museums are throwing off the shackles of convention and time to pull in the crowds

What does it take to extinguish the fire of curiosity? A few drops of rain, a few gusts of wind or a full-blown typhoon?

Officials of the Shanghai Museum got an answer to those questions when it threw its doors open to the public on the evening of Aug 9.

Typhoon Lekima, packing winds of 185 km/h, was just a few hours from making landfall in neighboring Zhejiang province, so many people in Shanghai averse to bad weather may well have thought that this would be a night to stay home.

In the event, more than 700 people chose to brave the rain and strong winds that Typhoon Lekima brought to the city and visit the Shanghai Museum.

"We made the reservation on the museum WeChat service a week ago," said Julie Wang, a Shanghai schoolteacher who attended with her daughter and several other parents and children.

"I also thought the rain might keep a lot of people away and it would be less crowded."

The parents prepared pamphlets and PowerPoint files on a tablet, teaching the children, all preschoolers from a single class, about the exhibition Arts of the Great Ocean, Pacific Art Collection from the Musee du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac in Paris.

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The exhibition Arts of the Great Ocean, Pacific Art Collection from the Musee du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac in Paris and the exhibition of 15th century Jingdezhen porcelain at the Shanghai Museum.

Walking among the carved oars, feather masks and wood sculptures, Wang occasionally brought to the children's attention patterns, figures and interesting details in the exhibits.

"We often see fine arts from China and the West in the museum, but this exhibition is quite different and a rare opportunity to see the Pacific art," Wang said.

Shanghai Museum began to extend its opening hours into the evening in 2017 when the exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects attracted many enthusiastic visitors, who were willing to line up for hours waiting to see it.

"We started opening in the evening on more than 20 days over three months to meet demand," said Xia Beibei, a member of the museum staff. Since then the museum has often held "Night of the Museum" events.

Earlier this year the municipality called on museums and public facilities to extend their services into the evening in a campaign to vitalize the city's night life. Shanghai Museum was one of 14 institutions to move rapidly to remain open in the evening.

A number of cinemas, libraries and bookshops in the downtown Huangpu district and suburban Baoshan district also extended their services to stay open into the wee hours.

Other cities in China are trying to revitalize night life, too. In Guangzhou, Guangdong province, six museums have been opened in the evening over summer.

"For a long time night life in Guangzhou consisted mainly of dining and shopping," Mao Ziming, a journalist, wrote in Guangzhou Daily.

"People want to do other things in the evening. Museums and bookstores are now staying open late and some subway lines are staying open later into the night."

Shanghai Museum has two exhibition halls for evening visitors. In addition to the Pacific art exhibition on the ground floor, there is an exhibition of 15th century Jingdezhen porcelain on the second floor.

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More than 700 people brave the rain and strong winds and visit the Shanghai Museum on Aug 9.

For the two exhibitions the museum has extended its opening hours to 9 pm on some Fridays, said Li Feng, deputy director of the museum.

"These are the most popular special exhibitions for this period, and we've also got lectures, educational workshops and other events on other evenings."

Anyone wanting to visit the museum in the evening is required to make a reservation through WeChat, and the number of visitors has been capped at 2,000.

"We are finding those 2,000 are snapped up within 20 minutes of their being made available," said Sun Luyao, a museum spokeswoman.

"Of course, when we announced the opening hours for Aug 9 we were unaware of the approaching typhoon, and once we became aware of it was too late to make other arrangements."

"So we decided to go ahead with what we were doing, taking steps to ensure that everybody would have a safe and pleasant visit."

The museum was closed the next day.

As the museum expected, not all of the 2,000 who had made reservations turned up the previous evening. Among those who did were Wang Junhan, 9, his mother and some of his classmates at the Shanghai Fushan Zhengda Foreign Language Primary School.

"During the day there's always a long line of people at the gate, and in the evening it's less crowded and quieter, so that's a much better time to come," said Junhan's mother, who did not want to be identified.

"I've been with my son to the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London," said the mother, who works in the finance industry.

"The exhibitions one sees in China's museums are just as good as anything you see anywhere else, but it would be great if they had games for children so they could have a bit of fun, whether with adventures or puzzle games."

Huang Hui, a security officer in the exhibition hall, said those who visit the exhibitions in the evening tend to be quieter and spend more time appreciating the exhibits.

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More than 700 people brave the rain and strong winds and visit the Shanghai Museum on Aug 9.

Among the visitors on the evening of Aug 9 were Wang Xuan of Shanghai, in her 20s, and a friend. They had opted to visit the museum that rainy evening because "during the day in summer it's just too hot," Wang Xuan said.

She felt happy and refreshed, she said, a bonus being that "we don't have to go to work tomorrow."

For all the balm that a relaxing night visit may deliver to visitors, extended hours also obviously place more pressure on museum staff, among them those who take care of maintenance and security.

The Memorial for the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China in the Xintiandi district of Shanghai, opened as a trial on the evenings of July 1 and 5, receiving an average of 5,000 visitors each day, and "it is a new challenge to ensure the safety of the memorial and cultural relics", a museum official said.

Opening in the evening requires more staff and other resources, said Qiu Zhengping, deputy director of the Shanghai History Museum, one of the 14 museums to extend into night hours every Friday since July.

"Each department needs to have someone staying on for the evening, involving security and property management staff."

In addition, some exhibition items are ill-suited to long exposure to the light, and some new media interactive devices were designed to operate eight hours a day.

The history museum put back its Friday closing time from 5 pm to 8 pm, and had between 800 and 1,000 visitors on each of the evening openings, the maximum allowed being 1,700, Qiu said.

For Shanghai History Museum's night openings it introduced a hands-on program allowing visitors to touch some ceramic pieces and bones. They were also given the chance to make a wood print with patterns replicated from the exhibits.

An American visitor to Shanghai History Museum on Aug 9 said night openings were not unusual in New York, the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum being among those that have them.

Among the visitors to the museum on the evening of Aug 9 was Chen Xin, 45, a history teacher, who visited with her husband and daughter.

"We all have to work during the day, so there's limited time for us to be together," Chen said.

Another thing that motivated them to visit the museum in the evening was the fact that there would be fewer people there than in the day, she said.

"We were able to enjoy some of the exhibits all by ourselves, something that could never happen during the day."