In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Museums

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Databases and Indexes
  • Journals
  • History of Museums and Museology in Mainland China
  • Museum Architecture and Design
  • Museum and Heritage Management
  • Museum and the Economy
  • Museum, Power, and Politics

Chinese Studies Museums
Tracey L-D Lu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0081


In mainland China, the birth of museums was a result of cultural influence from the West. A museum containing species of Asiatic fauna within the City Hall was open to the pubic in 1869 in the then British colony Hong Kong. The earliest museum open to the public in mainland China was the Shanghai Museum (different from today’s Shanghai Museum) founded by the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai in 1874. After the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, more museums were established, including the Palace Museum in Beijing in 1925, which played a role in the formation of the modern state. When the Kuomintang was defeated by the Communist Party of China and departed to Taiwan in 1949, the majority of the royal collections of the Palace Museum in Beijing was transferred to Taipei and has become the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. More museums have been founded by the central and local governments in mainland China since 1949, serving the economic, political, ideological, and social needs of the state. The quantity of museums in mainland China has increased significantly since the mid-1980s owing to various factors, ranging from increased funds available to local governments as a result of economic growth, to the popularity of private collection, to the government’s need to collect and display “natural and cultural heritage” in order to brand a region or a city in order to develop tourism, to the state’s need to build People’s Republic of China (PRC) with “culture” as its soft power. To date, there are more than twenty-eight hundred museums in mainland China, including public and private museums. Museological studies in mainland China have also experienced a rapid development, as hundreds of articles, book chapters, and books on museums and museology have been published, the majority of which are in Chinese; and museology has been established in several top Chinese universities as undergraduate and postgraduate programs. The boom of museums and the popularity of museology are not an isolated social phenomenon and are related to the profound economic, social, and political changes in China after the late 1970s.

General Overviews

There are many books and articles providing a general overview on museums in China. Due to citation limitation, only the comprehensive ones are listed below. Li and Lü 2007 covers museological issues, and introduces leading national and provincial museums, academic associations, important scholarly books, and journals on museology in China. Li and Luo 2004 is a general guidebook of more than sixty museums in mainland China and has been translated into English. Lü 1995 is a comprehensive overview on details of major museums in China. Lü 2009 outlines the origin and development of museums and museology in China dated from the late 19th century to 2009 associated with contemporaneous ideological and political contexts, summarizes principles and general practices of acquisition, collection management, exhibition, education, research, staff training, and professional organizations of museums in China, and lists major events and related policies, legislations, and administrative regulations. Shan 2011 discusses the development of museums and their new functions in contemporary China. Wang 2004 provides basic information on the history, museographic practices, and museological studies in China. Wenhuabu wenwuju 1985 is a general introduction of museums and museology in China. Finally, Zhang 2008 is a special issue of Museum International dedicated to museums in China and consists of two sections: section 1 covers topics like museum and heritage protection, ecomuseum, the development of private museums and digitalized museums etc.; while section 2 focuses on the management of several important museums in China.

  • Li Xueqirtdn 李学勤, and Lü Wenyu 吕文郁, eds. Ershi shiji zhongguo xueshu dadian- kaoguxue, bowuguan xue 20 (世纪中国学术大典-考古学,博物馆学). Fuzhou, China: Fujian jiaoyu chubanshe, 2007.

    The book is an encyclopedia of archaeology and museology in contemporary China, with the first part on archaeology and the second part on museology, and is a good introduction for understanding museums and museology in China.

  • Li Xianyao黎先耀 and Luo Zhewen 罗哲文. China’s Museums. Translated by Martha Avery. Beijing: China Intercontinental, 2004.

    This is a general guidebook on the location, major collections, and exhibitions of important museums in mainland China, and provides basic information for English readers.

  • Lü Jimin 吕济民, ed. Zhongguo bowuguan zhi (中国博物馆志). Beijing: huaxia chubanshe, 1995.

    The book provides information on addresses, buildings, administrative structure, staff, history, collections, exhibitions, and research outputs of major museums in China up to 1992, and is a good resource for readers to have a basic understanding of Chinese museums.

  • Lü Jimin 吕济民, ed. Dangdai zhongguo de bowuguan shiye (当代中国的博物馆事业). Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo chubanshe, 2009.

    This is a very comprehensive review on the history of museums, museography, and museology in contemporary China, with useful appendix providing information on related policies, regulations, and managerial approaches in Chinese museums.

  • Shan Jixiang 单霁翔. Cong “guanshe tiandi” zouxiang “daqian shijie”–guanyu guangyi bowuguan de sikao (从“馆舍天地”走向“大千世界”-关于广义博物馆的思考). Tianjin, China: Tianjin daxue chubanshe, 2011.

    The author argues that museums have their social, educational, and cultural functions, and should also be used to enrich the quality of urban life and preserve archaeological and other cultural heritage.

  • Wang Hongjun 王宏钧. Zhongguo bowuguan xue jichu (中国博物馆学基础). Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2004.

    A textbook for museology programs in China’s universities. It integrates theories and practices of museum studies in China and overseas, and covers the history, acquisition, collection management, exhibition, research, and related legislations of China’s museums.

  • Wenhuabu wenwuju 文化部文物局, ed. Zhongguo bowuguanxue gailun (中国博物馆学概论). Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1985.

    The book discusses the history of museums in China, the nature and missions of museums, as well as classification, acquisition, collection management, exhibition, public education, research, and building management of museums.

  • Zhang Wenbin 张文彬, ed. Special Issue: Ancient China, New Museums. Museum International 237.8 (2008).

    This special issue publishes articles written by Chinese scholars on museum studies and management in contemporary China, and is a useful overview for English readers.

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