Crowds overwhelm free-entry museums

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am

The mainland's musty public museums and memorial halls are scrambling to meet the demands of a sharp rise in patronage after authorities ordered them to waive entry fees as part of a campaign to cultivate a sense of cultural identity and patriotism.

In the past, state-owned museums were often underfunded and had little incentive to improve infrastructure, upgrade services and cut prices to attract visitors.

But with additional financial backing from the central government, some museums adopted a free-admissions policy on a trial basis late last year and were unprepared for the sudden influx of visitors.

Fujian Museum in Fuzhou was among the first to open free during the Lunar New Year, but its main door was broken and display items damaged during the surge in interest.

Museum official Lin Dan, who is also a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the museum was overwhelmed with visitors, with more than 10,000, or six times the usual number, arriving in the first few days of the trial run.

Citing official statistics, Zhang Bai, deputy director of the State Bureau of Cultural Heritage, said more than 200 museums and public memorial halls had introduced free admission and authorities planned to give the public free access to about 1,400 museums by the end of next year.

'A lot of facilities at the museums are not up to the demand now, as there aren't enough toilets. Among the many other problems are inadequate safety precautions,' Mr Zhang said. He also urged museum managements to improve the level of services.

Ms Lin said her museum had deployed more guides and security guards and also planned to limit the number of daily visitors to ensure a better ambience for visitors.