In January, Beijing closed all its museums as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. After three months, with the epidemic subsiding, the city authorities gave the green light for a tentative reopening. However, overriding concerns about public safety mean that visitors still face many restrictions.
Beijing's Capital Museum was one of the first in the city to reopen. Strict prevention and control measures are in place to make sure that both public and staff can enter and move around without worry. Tickets must be booked online and are limited to 1,000 per day – 500 visitors in the morning, 500 in the afternoon. Social distancing is enforced, temperatures are checked, and everyone is expected to wear a mask at all times. Notice boards display reminders for people to wash their hands regularly and maintain a safe distance.
"We've not encountered such a situation since the new Capital Museum opened at the end of 2005," said Chen Ailing, the deputy head of the museum's service and security department.
Chen explains that during the lockdown, members of staff spent time thinking up new ways to reach an audience unable to physically enter the museum. They launched "Shoubo Radio," a WeChat mini-program comprising podcasts, photographs and video content to help people discover the museum's exhibitions and artifacts from the comfort of their own homes.
The program proved to have a broad appeal, as museum spokesperson Yang Dandan explains: "People who've been to the museum are interested, as they've seen the exhibits before in person. Those who haven't been already can look forward to seeing them in person once the epidemic is over."
The people behind the museum's special displays are hoping it won't be long before more people come to see their exhibits, which in some cases have taken months to prepare.
One of Capital Museum's more impressive current special exhibits is "1420: From Nanjing to Beijing." It tells the story of the relocation of China's capital city during the Ming dynasty. The history is illustrated by ornate jewelry and other pieces from Nanjing, some of them over 600 years old.
"Because of the epidemic, the number of visitors has dropped. As the exhibition designer, I hope more people will come and see it," said Li Guangyuan from the museum's exhibition art and creative development department.
Those who, undeterred by the control measures and limited ticket numbers, have made it to the museum since its reopening, are generally positive about the experience.
"I visited the exhibition before it closed, but that wasn't enough," said one visitor. "So, on this work trip to Beijing, I'm here again."
A father tells Rediscovering China that for his daughter, who is still studying at home, a visit to the museum is a good opportunity to learn about China's history.
Staff and visitors alike are hoping the coronavirus will soon be just another part of the country's history, and maybe even the subject of an exhibit here at Capital Museum.
(Cover image: A visitor examines the artifacts at Beijing's Capital Museum. / Zuo Yue, CGTN)