Free entry on way for museums, libraries

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am

Thousands of museums and libraries on the mainland are set to give free access to the public under a government proposal that has been widely welcomed.

At the same time, critics say the government needs to do more to ensure that money for cultural services is properly spent.

Under the proposal, national and provincial museums and libraries will give free entry to the public by the end of the year. Most museums on the mainland currently charge an entrance fee, and libraries charge users for library cards and the use of the internet and reading rooms.

Touted in Premier Wen Jiabao's government work report last year, the initiative aims to enrich people's intellectual and cultural standards as well as 'to promote social harmony and stability', according to the Ministry of Culture's website.

Museums say they are planning to step up measures to cope with a surge in visitors.

There have been reports of display items being damaged and doors broken in some museums that tried out free admission on a trial basis in the past few years. Many did not have the infrastructure to cope with the sudden influx of visitors.

An official at the Ministry of Culture said yesterday that many museums had learned from the experience and he was confident that they would be able to cope.

Yu Ge, head of public relations at the National Museum of Art in Beijing, said the museum would limit the number of visitors by requiring people to book in advance. It would also increase security staff and upgrade security facilities, she said.

She said the government would provide more funding to museums to meet the bills but declined to give details.

Although the government has been increasing spending on culture-related public services, critics said the money did not always go to the right places.

Professor Li Gongming, of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, said there was an imbalance in the distribution of government resources for public cultural services.

'They spend tens of millions on festivals and celebrations - but as for libraries, museums and other cultural services, it is not a happy picture,' Li said.

Facilities at such institutions were often outdated and their budgets often tight. They also often kept rare books and cultural relics of high research value behind locked doors, making access for scholars difficult, he said.

Shanghai-based cultural critic Zhu Dake said government spending on museums often went into the hardware, such as the buildings, rather that their content. He said there were also far fewer museums in China than in the West in proportion to the size of the population.

'There are too few museums for the population. There aren't enough to satisfy people's demand,' he said.

Official figures show there were 2,820 public libraries and 1,893 museums on the mainland as of 2008.

Observers say mainland tax revenues totalled 7.73 trillion yuan (HK$9.12 trillion) last year, second to the United States, and that it should make even more public facilities free of charge.

Many public parks, for example, still charge an entrance fee.

Government spending on cultural services, such as libraries and museums, has been climbing in recent years, reaching 29.2 billion yuan in 2009 - but that only comprised 0.39 per cent of government spending that year, according to statistics on the Ministry of Culture website. It said government spending on cultural services had hovered between 0.39 and 0.41 per cent of the total in past years.

Cultural impact

The mainland had 2,820 public libraries and 1,893 museums as of 2008

Spending by the government on cultural services, in billions of yuan, in 2009 totalled: 29.2b yuan