Cell phones are popular in Chinese museums too, and the leading museum wants to welcome them as much as possible. The National Museum of China, which describes itself as “one of the biggest museums in the world,” has launched applications and implemented QR codes in its galleries. With a total floor area of 192,000 square metres, its more than 40 galleries house a permanent collection of over 1 million artworks and host numerous national and international exhibits.
After a few months of using QR codes in its special exhibits, the National Museum of China is reporting some very good results. During the exhibit Nature in Western Art – Masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (February – May 2013), QR codes generated more than 410,000 scans, including over 17,000 for a single Van Gogh piece, the most scanned work in the exhibit.
But QR codes are just one of the new digital tools being used in the National Museum of China. As Huang Chen, Head of the museum’s public education department, explained to China Daily, “The rapid development of digital and intelligent technologies is changing our lives. This brings about a whole new viewing experience for our audiences.”
Using QR codes, visitors can access a dedicated website where they can find information on the exhibit and the artwork, as well as multimedia content. “By saving the website, we can review the information after we leave the museum; we can also share it with friends on social network platforms like Sina Weibo or Weixin with a click,” says Wu Li, a frequent museum visitor from Beijing.
The major role of social networks
Museum authorities believe that new technologies should improve the museum’s services and enhance the visitor’s experience. The official accounts of the National Museum of China on Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) have picked up more than 3.8 million friends or followers since their opening in 2010 (4.3 million for the Palace Museum). According to the museum, social networks have played a “major role in the sharp rise in exhibit visits.”
Huang believes that digital technologies will help reduce costs for the museum. “In the past, we often had to spend a lot of money to develop or purchase hardware to help visitors. Now we only have to focus on the content displayed on the visitors’ terminals. Internet, mobiles, and social networking platforms allow us to reach our audience at a lower cost.”
Mobile apps and a multilingual website
Since 2009, the museum has developed 5 million mobile apps. In addition, in May 2013, it added three new languages (French, German, and Italian) to its website, on top of the languages already supported (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English). For the past two years, the museum has also offered its Chinese audience several online virtual exhibits using 3D technology, as well as virtual visits to past exhibits.