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March 6, 2015

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Cash-strapped small museums set to miss out on state funding

THE owners of some of Shanghai’s private museums are worried their businesses are too small to benefit from recent changes to the law on funding.

On Monday, the State Council announced new rules that allow private museums to apply for government aid as long as they meet certain criteria. In the past, only public-sector facilities were eligible for such support.

The criteria cover such things as a venue’s floor area, the number of exhibits it has and how many people it employs.

One person who thinks he is likely to miss out on the rule change is 85-year-old Lan Xiang who runs the Museum of Chopsticks on Duolun Road in the city’s Hongkou District.

“I can’t apply for funds from the government because my place doesn’t meet the new terms,” said the owner of the 16-square-meter showroom.

“But I think I should get some help as my museum is meaningful to society,” he said.

Lan said he has been collecting chopsticks for 40 years and owns more than 2,000 pairs, as well as hundreds of holders and cases.

The petite emporium has room to display only a few hundred pairs; about a thousand others are tucked away in cupboards and boxes, he said.

The lack of space also means he can welcome no more than 10 visitors at a time.

Lan said he would like to relocate to a larger space but can’t afford to do so without financial support.

A published author on the subject of chopsticks — some of his work has been translated into English and French — Lan said he has spent every penny he has earned on his beloved treasures.

“I hope my efforts will contribute to the preservation and publicity of our country’s proud history of making chopsticks,” he said.

Another small-business owner bemoaning the lack of aid is 60-year-old Guo Chunxiang, who runs a diminutive museum dedicated to the history of Shanghai on the same street as Lan.

He said he has already been told he won’t be eligible for funding under the new rules.

“They told me my showroom had to cover at least 300 square meters and that I also had to have a fire escape plan,” Guo said.

He said he failed on both counts, and so will continue to eke out a living by selling ornaments and replica antiques.

Yang Peiming, the curator and owner of the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum, said that although his attraction is big enough to meet the new rules, he considers the restriction unfair.

“Museums shouldn’t be judged by size, but by value,” he said.

“There are plenty of large museums in the city that have nothing really unique to exhibit, while there are smaller ones that are much more meaningful and interesting,” Yang said.

Wu Shaohua, head of the Shanghai Collectors’ Association, agreed.

“A lot of museums are small, but fun,” he said. “Their eccentricity is often what makes them popular among visitors to Shanghai.”

The city is home to about 60 private museums, Wu said, adding that probably about half of them will be eligible for funding.

Lu Jiansong, dean of the Department of Cultural Heritage and Museology at Fudan University, said the new regulations are generally supportive of private museums, though he appreciates the concerns of people like Lan.

“We should set up an assessment system for all museums, including those like Lan’s, and award funds based on the cultural contribution they make and not just how big they are,” he said.


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