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On September 8, 2012, the Palace Museum launched the Palace Museum Forum, a series of non-profit public lectures. The first lecture, themed “From the Forbidden City to the Palace Museum,” was presented by curator Shan Jixiang, who had been heading the museum for only eight months. Across the four years since then, nearly 70 experts have appeared at the forum to give lectures related to the Palace Museum on topics like ancient Chinese architecture, cultural relics studies and appreciation, and technological protection of cultural heritage. Nearly 10,000 attendees have benefited from the forum. On February 12, 2017, the forum celebrated its 100th lecture. The curator stepped onto the podium once again, with a lecture titled “Expressions of the Palace Museum.”
The forum is just one of many programs Shan introduced after taking over management of the time-honored Palace Museum. Shan believes that to optimize the Palace Museum, which is full of China’s national treasures, for tourists from around the world, work needs to be done above and beyond standard museum maintenance.
“Palace Museum with Dignity”
Born in Beijing in 1954, Shan studied protection and planning for historic cities and historic neighborhoods in college. In the early 1990s, he began to practice city planning and cultural heritage protection, and was deemed a scholar-official by the Chinese media. In early 2012, he was appointed curator of the world-renowned Palace Museum, where 24 Chinese emperors from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties once lived.
As soon as Shan took office, he launched comprehensive “field research” of his museum. Covering a total area of 111 hectares, the Palace Museum is so big that Chinese people always speak of its vastness using hyperbole. “If a person slept in a different room of the Palace Museum every night, he still wouldn’t get to all of them in his lifetime,” goes one saying. But Shan committed to walking every inch of the museum to “get familiar with every flower and brick.” Five months later, he had stepped foot in every one of the 9,000-plus rooms in the Palace Museum, and worn out 20 pairs of cloth shoes. Since construction of the Forbidden City was completed in 1420, perhaps only two people have managed to document completion of this task: Shan and his secretary. Alongside this field investigation, Shan also visited both working and retired scholars and cultural relics experts of the museum, previous curators of the museum and outside specialists and experts in related fields. “During my visits and research, I began to profoundly understand the subtlety, sensitivity, and complexity of our work in the Palace Museum as well as the challenges we face and the dedication of so many people,” said Shan.