Shanxi Museum

Jinming Shi

Shanxi Museum

13 Binhe Xilu Beiduan, Taiyuan City, Shanxi, 030024 P.R. China

Taiyuan, China

Chinese Museum Association - Most innovative Museums Award 2013

Challenging the stereotypes of management

Shanxi is situated on the banks of the Yellow River and on the eastern  plateau in Northern China, covering an area of about 160,000 square kilometers with a population of 36 million. It is the important birthplace of Chinese civilization and a major historical staging post of ethnic integration and development. Shanxi is abundant in historic and cultural heritage and known as a treasure house of ancient architecture, mural paintings and sculpture.

Shanxi museum, founded in 1919, is one of the oldest museums in China. The new Shanxi Museum is located on the west bank of the Fenhe River in Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi Province. The museum occupies an area of about 28 acres. There are more than 400,000 cultural relics in the collection, which represent the cultural essence of the province. Therefore it is the biggest centre for collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting cultural relics in Shanxi province. The permanent exhibition, themed as Jin Spirits, consists of 12 exhibition halls: the Cradle of Civilization, the Traces of Xia and Shang, the Accomplishments of the Jin Vassal State, the Melting pot of Different Nationalities, the Relics of Buddhism, the Hometown of Chinese Operas, Shanxi Merchants in 14-16th century, Chinese Ancient Architecture, Jade wares, Ceramics, Ancient Money and Paintings. These are displayed chronologically and  local culture and art are highlighted and comprehensively illustrated.

The prize of most innovative museum in China was established by the Chinese Museums Association and is overseen by the State Cultural Relics Administration. It aims to inspire Chinese museums to play a more positive role in their regional areas, in cultural development and to encourage them to develop academic studies and innovation. Only two museums are awarded the prize each year. The CMA is responsible for the organization and evaluation, the results of which are announced on  International Museums Day. Shanghai Museum and Sun yat-sen''s Former Residence Memorial in Guangdong province received the prize in 2012, Shanxi Museum and Suzhou Museum in 2013.

Shanxi Museum is a pioneer of innovation in the museum field across China, especially in museum management and temporary exhibitions. Public cultural life in Shanxi and surrounding area has been promoted and influenced dramatically since its opening in 2005. The museum has now run successfully for 9 years attracting more than 1 million people each year. The CMA and Chinese museum professionals have highly praised what we have done in recent years.

Innovations on Management

Shanxi Museum has tried to change the stereotypes of management and has set up an advisory board  in the museum. Some members of the social elite and experts have been invited as board members to guide and direct the development programmes and macro-management in the museum. These experienced professionals, as board members with a broad view, have helped us avoid mistakes.

A social system of management was also introduced into Shanxi Museum, which  solved a severe problem- the lack of human resources. We cooperated with local universities, research institutes, guards and a cultural company which is in charge of specific study projects, security and the museum store respectively. They receive the same salary and social welfare as the regular staff. Some excellent, qualified companies help us do some work they are specialized in, but the museum has stayed in charge of supervision and evaluation. Thus this new idea of the government acquiring services from society has been fulfilled in public welfare mechanisms. 

Innovations on Exhibitions

Various exhibitions in the museum have strong public appeal. Temporary exhibitions hosted in Shanxi Museum since 2008 consist of 6 series, including the Civilization of the Yangtze River, the Civilization of the Chinese Border Area, Minority Folk customs, Great Calligraphers and Painters, Contemporary Artists and Modern Artists. Not only have we designed and hosted 25 temporary exhibitions ourselves, but we have introduced 48 classic and fine temporary exhibitions from other museums and institutes as well during the past 7 years. These wonderful exhibitions raised interest and were appreciated by the visitors. Meanwhile, we designed five representative exhibitions based on our collections, including Selected Cultural Relics of Early Shanxi(11-3nd century B.C), the Art of Brick Carvings(10-14th century), Stone Sarcophagi of Yuhong(late 6th century), Cultural Relics of Buddhism(4-19th century)) and Masterworks of Fushan(17th century). These exhibitions have toured 27 cities and museums both at home and abroad.

Shanxi Museum is zealous and active in displaying the latest  archaeological discoveries and research achievements to the public. In 2005, the archaeological excavations in Xihou Du, revealed  the oldest prehistoric remains in China that we know of, resulting in a major new discovery which shocked the academic world. We displayed these new findings in the permanent exhibition as soon as it was possible. The valuable articles from the excavation of Taosi, the Jin Marquis Cemetery, the Tomb of Xu Xianxiu and Shizi Tan were shown to the public for the first time as well. In designing these temporary exhibitions, more important archaeological achievements from China in recent years were presented, such as Excellent Archaeological Excavations from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Science(2012), the Discovery of Ba Kingdom(2012), the Traces of Life-the New Achievements of Chinese vertebrate paleontology(2008) and so on. Our curators introduced new studies to the public through these sensitive exhibitions. The academic world, science and pleasure were fused together perfectly in these exhibitions which made unfamiliar archaeological finds and rigorous science much closer to  public life.

Progressive ideas in design and display combined academic study and exhibition art together. For example, in the exhibition the Discovery of Ba Kingdom (2012), there are some wooden articles and lacquer which are still in the process of scientific conservation,and these were displayed as if they were in the Lab. We also displayed a set of bronze items that had not been uncovered yet. Through  X-ray images, people can see what exactly there is under the rust and clay. People are curious about these new, mysterious archaeological excavations. We raised some questions about this discovery to try to stimulate people to ponder and focus on these issues. Meanwhile, the answers and explanations from visitors are probably helpful for a future study. This is a two-sided interaction between professionals and visitors. Through such exhibitions, Public Archaeology is welcomed and people can find out how  archaeological excavations and scientific archaeology are represented today in academic circles.

One of the regular exhibition halls which displays Buddhist cultural relics is designed as a stone grotto temple from an early Buddhist period and a palace- style temple in the Chinese Buddhist phase. Many stone items are displayed naturally without showcases, and this very likely took people back to the real Buddhist world when they were strolling through the hall after entering the exhibition. Thus both the exhibition and its design have enjoyed a good reputation in the Chinese museum world.

Although we have started with the system of the advisory board,  there are still some problems we have to face. For instance, for western methods to be accepted by and blended with the regular Chinese  management system still needs more time and has a  long way to go. The funds of Shanxi Museum were supported by the allocation of governmental grants, but these are not sufficient in meeting total expenditure. On the one hand we look forward to attracting more funds from the government, while on the other hand we wish we could get more social funds through the advisory board by conducting significant commercial activities in the museum, which is allowed for and supported by the government.


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