How museums and galleries in Shanghai, China are managing re-opening during the Covid-19 pandemic

ICOM UK is reaching out to international museum colleagues to give our members a personal snapshot about their experience of how museums are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first report, Catherine McDermott (ICOM UK Secretary) talks to Ning Li, independent curator and former Deputy Director of the Collection Department at the China Art Museum (CAM) in Shanghai.


CMD:  How long have the museums in Shanghai been closed?

NL:  The museums and art museums in Shanghai have been closed about seven weeks – the same as most institutions in China.  Let’s look back the timeline in Shanghai.  On 23th January, the national museums and art museums in Shanghai reduced the audience number to 60% of normal.  In order to prevent further outbreaks, they introduced online museum booking, ID checking, measuring body temperature at the entrance, as well as postponing education events and tour guides and sterilizing public spaces and equipment, etc.  This planning was in preparation for the busy Spring Festival as usual.  The next day, January 24th the museums and art museums were completely closed.  The 3rd Feb (Monday) is the first public working after Festival, but all citizens were informed to stay at home one more week.  The Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism announced all public cultural venues (affiliates) would be reopened on 13th Friday March with Beijing museums closed until early April.


CMD:  UK museums and galleries are using their online resources to connect with audiences.  What online strategies did the Shanghai museums and galleries use?

NL:  Shanghai museums immediately told its audiences “We will stay with all online”.  Fortunately, all the national museums and art museums finished collection database five years ago.  Each has plenty of resource to share online, and promote their collection via Wechat everyday.


CMD:  We were excited to see some of the Shanghai museums have recently re-opened.  How is this working?

NL:  Although this depends on the wellness situation in China, museums and art museums are trying to re-open to the audience.  The new visiting rules announced on Wechat included formal ID, a pre-booked visiting appointment via Wechat, ID checking and body temperature checking(37.7℃) at the entrance and the wearing of face masks.  Entrance staff also checked all visitors for their healthy QR code.


CMD:  Can you explain to UK museums staff how the healthy QR code works for museums visitors?

NL:  The healthy code is a portable code based on big data analysis.  We call them “pocket code”.  Everyone, including non-Chinese citizens can get the Healthy QR code from the Citizen Service App, via registering details information (mainly including ID, travelling history in last 14 days and face photo collecting).  Each code is the only one and updating.  There are three colours for the QR code.  Green means clear and free to go anywhere; yellow means close contact with Covid and suggested isolation.  Red means the suspected person has the virus and needs isolation and possible medical supervision.

Each province has an independent local system – which means you find the code from the App, in your city of residence. Although the use of QR codes is roughly the same, but there are slight differences in different cities.

Obviously, the Green code is OK for visiting and saves on checking time at the public entrance.  Meanwhile security could check for more details for scanning the code as necessary.


CMD:  Have Shanghai museums been able to return to their programme of planned exhibitions?

NL:  More and more museums announced in last week that they would extend their exhibitions and delay the plans to half a year later.


CMD:  On its current visitor page The Power Station of Art requires a pre-booked ticket to visit. UK museums will be interested in different levels of access to collections. Would you share your understanding of how this works?

NL:  A visitor appointment in advanced is required by all the Shanghai museums and art museums that have currently opened.  As I understand the system, museums control the visiting numbers to allow for people to keep safe visiting distance (1.5 meters is the suggestion).   Although the admission time was extended due to the necessary routine inspections, everyone cooperated with the museum staff very patiently.  The reservation of the re-opened first day on 13th March is full (max 2000), and the actual visitors are 996.  There are some different patterns of attendance for example on some rainy days.  I can also understand some visitor hesitation before going out.  Staying home has became a habit after 7 weeks and people are cautious not for themselves but for everyone’s health.  We also learnt through the news that the number of museum staff was increased by 30%, during these special periods.


CMD:  What museums are currently open in Shanghai and do you know of any plans they are developing to re-build visitor attendance?

NL:  All the national and part of private museums and art museums in Shanghai are opened as usual.  Museums have realized video platforms and live broadcasts would be the next galleries to the audience, especially youth. Some big video service companies want to further open up the cultural business, such as Tencent, TikTok, Youku and Bilibili, all of which have been very active in last three months.  In these two days during the short public vacation, the Forbidden Palace in Beijing makes live broadcast program online for the first time.  The program is named “Beautiful Spring in Silence Palace” and will be broadcast on 5th and 6th April on eight video platforms.


CMD:  Thank you Ning for sharing your experiences in Shanghai.  ICOM UK members send their best wishes to all Chinese colleagues in the museum sector.


Catherine McDermott first interview Ning Li for ICOM UK in April 2018 as part of our ongoing series of interviews with international museum professionals.  You can read this interview on the ICOM UK website by clicking HERE.