China’s Art, From Museum Exhibits to Rock Concerts, Moves Online During Coronavirus Outbreak

The government has directed museums to “enrich the people’s spiritual and cultural life during the epidemic [with] cloud exhibitions”

National Museum of China, Beijing
The National Museum of China in Beijing is one of many institutions upping its online offerings in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Ohm Raumzeit via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

The outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused weeks of anxiety and quarantine in China. People are staying home to limit the spread of the illness, recently named COVID-19. Venues that normally draw large crowds have shut their doors indefinitely, and events like concerts and an international art fair have been canceled.

But the country’s ban on public gatherings hasn’t completely shuttered China’s cultural landscape. Instead, the action is increasingly moving online. From museum exhibitions to live concerts, the country’s art scene is connecting communities in the digital sphere.

In January, the Chinese government issued a letter directing museums to “enrich the people’s spiritual and cultural life during the epidemic [with] cloud exhibitions” that display previously planned gallery programming, reports Caroline Goldstein for artnet News. At that point, two museum openings in China had been postponed, and Hong Kong had closed all public institutions.

Now, sites including the Chongqing China Three Gorges Museum, the Chongqing Natural History Museum and the National Museum in Beijing have all opted to increase their digital offerings. Some sites, like the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum, are only accessible from mainland China, according to Maggie Hiufu Wong of CNN. But about 100 online exhibits can be accessed from anywhere via China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration website.

An extensive lineup of special exhibitions had been planned for the Forbidden City’s 600th anniversary. One of those, focused on the Spring Festival, is accessible online in Chinese, as is a 3-D tour of the Forbidden City complex. The terracotta warriors of Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi’an and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall are among the other museums available for virtual visits.

Live concerts similarly shut down by measures to reduce the spread of the virus are also moving online. A legendary punk rock venue called VOX Livehouse came up with the idea of livestreaming a concert, reports Hyperallergic’s Krish Raghav. The concert hall is located in Wuhan, arguably the center of Chinese punk-rock culture—and the city where the new coronavirus was first identified.

VOX’s initial “live-streamed music festival” has sparked a nationwide trend of similar events. As Hyperallergic reports, musicians, record labels, venues and clubs alike are organizing “bedroom music festivals” and livestreamed club nights featuring pop, techno, punk and experimental improvisation.

“It’s like going to a karaoke parlor or being in a mosh pit without leaving your house,” singer He Fan of Beijing band Birdstriking tells Hyperallergic.

Fan’s band performed an acoustic set for a livestream event called “Strawberry Z,” which derives its name from China’s biggest annual outdoor music festival, Strawberry. The event, called “I’m at Home, Too,” in Chinese, is a five-day music festival hosted on the short video app Bilibili. As the video plays, viewers can participate by contributing to the stream of comments floating onscreen. Bilibili has offered 100,000 free memberships to people living in quarantine in the hope of connecting people and alleviating boredom and anxiety caused by the spread of COVID-19.

“Some artists have also been invited to livestream their lives while staying at home during the outbreak such as cooking, exercising, playing games and many other fun ways to kill time,” says a Bilibili spokesman to Variety’s Patrick Frater. “The cooking segments will be streaming during the evening around dinnertime.”

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