As important cultural institutions, Chinese museums are managed by the State Bureau of Cultural Relics. Since the first museum appeared in China in 1868, there are currently more than 1,400 museums, most of which have been established since the 1980s. Museums (bowuguan) are officially defined as non-profit organizations that function to educate the public through the exhibition, collection, preservation and research of artifacts or specimens. There are three major types of museums: (1) social history museums, which include history, revolutionary history, ethnology, folklore, memorial and art museums; (2) natural science museums, which include natural history, and science and technology museums; and (3) general museums.
A history of Chinese museums can be traced back to 478 BC when Confucius’s clothes, hats, musical instruments and carts were on display in his former residence. The first modern museum, however, was the Sikowei Museum in Shanghai, a natural history museum established by the Frenchman Pierre Heude in 1868. The first modern museum established by a private Chinese person was the Nantong Museum in Jiangsu, a natural history museum, by Zhang Qian in 1905. The incorporation of museums into the nation-building process taking place in Republican China began with the establishment of the first national museum, the National Historical Museum in Beijing, in 1912. Republican China witnessed the establishment of such important museums as the Palace Museum (established in Beijing in 1925 and moved to Taipei in 1948) and the Central Museum (1933). The total number and types of museums reached a peak in the 1930s: 129 museums were founded, including art, history and natural history museums.
Because of the series of wars from 1937 to 1948, however, only thirteen of these museums had survived by 1949.
In the PRC, the Great Leap Forward (1957–9) witnessed a significant development of museums. The number of museums rose from seventy-two in 1957 to 480 in 1959. Three important museums were founded: the National Museum of Chinese History, focusing on the ancient Chinese civilization; the National Museum of Chinese Revolution, focusing on the history of the Chinese Communist Party; and the Military Museum of the Chinese Revolution, devoted to the history of revolutionary wars and that of the People’s Liberation Army. As a result of the numerous archaeological discoveries in recent decades, the National Museum of Chinese History has received the best, most important and most representative artifacts from all over the country. It also provides a general framework for displaying ancient history. Since the 1980s, the development of museums has been rapid. The total number of museums has reached 1,400. Almost every city has at least one museum. The Chinese Society of Museums was established in 1982 to coordinate professional activities. In addition, relevant laws are formulated, including Procedures for the Provincial Museums (1979), the Cultural Relics Preservation Act (1982), and Procedures for the Collections Management in Museums (1986).
See also: monuments and public sculpture; restoration districts (urban)

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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