Palace Museum’s brand changes big hit among young Chinese

By Wang Qi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/28 16:53:41

A set of emperor and empress dolls designed by the Palace Museum Photo: VCG

Tourists visit a digital exhibition at the Palace Museum in Beijing on January 25. Photo: VCG

When the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Yongle Emperor gave the order to begin constructing the Forbidden City in 1406, he probably never imagined that more than 600 years later, the imperial palace would become one of the busiest museums in the world.

The Palace Museum, which receives approximately 16 million visitors a year, has become increasingly popular among young Chinese in recent years. Pictures of the Palace Museum are appearing more frequently than ever in young people's online posts and more and more creative cultural products designed and produced by the Palace Museum are being welcomed by young people. 

Since his appointment in 2012 as director of the Palace Museum, Shan Jixiang has worked hard to shorten the distance between ordinary people and the imperial palace and turn the museum into a fashionable phenomenon.

Setting trends

"I don't think that I am an 'online celebrity.' People just call me that,'' Shan said while giving a speech at the 2019 Tencent Neo-Cultural Creativity Conference on Sunday in Beijing, according to Chinese outlet Reference News.

Over the past few years, Shan has been seen as the main force behind the Palace Museum's rise to popularity. 

Two years after Shan became director, the museum launched its first series of creative cultural products based on items from the collection. It also became the first museum in China to establish an online store. Currently, the Palace Museum has four online stores on, with 7.6 million followers in total. 

In addition to introducing new innovative souvenirs, the museum has made some interesting moves that have captured the public's attention. 

In 2016, the museum entered the realm of TV with its documentary series The Masters in the Forbidden City. The show quickly won the hearts of young Chinese, getting a 9.4/10 score on Chinese review platform Douban. The documentary premiered on CCTV and quickly became hugely popular on Bilibili, a video platform known for its ACG (Anime, Comics, Games) orientated content, getting more than 4.4 million views and 93,000 comments.

The museum has also moved into the fashion arena with a cosmetics line. In December 2018, the museum released six Palace Museum brand lipsticks, which sold out in just two days. Other Palace Museum cosmetics have also been selling well.

"We have 11,900 cultural and creative products that are related to all aspects of people's daily lives, so we thought 'why not make lipstick,'" Shan told Chinese news outlet The Paper. 

"More than 1 million lipsticks have been sold. I think the only drawback to our lipsticks is that they are constantly out of stock."

Food options at the museum have also gained a following. Long lines are commonplace in front of the Palace Museum Cafe, where young people enjoy taking pictures and eating fancy themed drinks and cakes. Additionally, after the Palace Museum's Corner Tower restaurant announced its new royal hot pot meal on February 5, it became nearly impossible to book a seat.

On February 17, the Palace Museum's ticketing system crashed after the museum announced it was holding a nighttime light show to celebrate the traditional Chinese Lantern Festival

All these moves have completely changed people's impression of the once solemn Forbidden City, making it feel more welcoming.

5G palace 

Besides the brand change, Shan has also worked to bring the 599-year-old palace into the 21st century through high tech means. 

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the museum signed a cooperation agreement with Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei on March 15, which will see the introduction of 5G to the museum as well as the incorporation of improved smart facilities. 

At Sunday's conference, Shan emphasized the museum's determination to enhance its digitization and technological efforts. 

"We will continue to make efforts to improve the construction of a 5G and smart Palace as soon as possible," Xinhua quoted Shan as saying. 

Since it first began producing smart phone apps, the museum has constantly expanded into different categories such as education, tourism services and social media.    

Moreover, the Palace Museum established a digital museum at the Forbidden City's Duanmen, or the Gate of Uprightness, in 2015, where it uses multimedia exhibits to introduce visitors to the collection. 

"We have about 1,200 ancient buildings and 1,500 gorgeous carpets that can be viewed on our digital map, and about 75,000 calligraphy works are available for copying," Shan noted in an interview with the National Business Daily, adding that he believes making things fun is the best way to promote traditional culture.  

"We have released the recipe of our royal meal. Just scan a QR code and you can cook whatever royal dish you like at home," he pointed out.  

Shan said he hopes this technology will make the museum feel more alive and relevant.
Newspaper headline: No longer forbidden

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