Beijing-born photographer Lyu Yang is fascinated by everything about the Forbidden City. Over the past decade, the 35-year-old has taken pictures of this century-old complex every week.
Lyu often volunteers to tell stories about the museum's history and cultural objects to foreign visitors. His five-year-old daughter also takes a great interest in the stories and is fond of the history-themed activites at the Palace Museum.
In recent years, the museum has been revitalized and gained fame online.
"China's economic growth has brought better lives for Chinese people, yet modern life has alienated many from traditional culture. What the museum has done is to creatively attract people to get closer to traditional treasures," said Lyu.
LIVENING UP THE ANCIENT PALACE
Curator Shan Jixiang is the man behind the scenes. Since 2012, the self-proclaimed "gatekeeper of the museum" launched a comprehensive field research project on the museum.
Over the course of five months, he stepped foot in every one of the 9,000-plus rooms, wearing out 20 pairs of cloth shoes. The former director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage could even recall the exact number of cultural relics housed in the museum.
As the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, the museum houses more Chinese treasures and is among the most visited attractions in the world.
"But do these facts matter?" Shan said in a recent interview with Xinhua. "If 70 percent of its space is not open to the public and 99 percent of its relics are not showcased to patrons -- or if visitors don't look at any exhibitions but just walk down the central axis from the front entrance to the back gate -- it is not a museum that people can enjoy from the bottom of their hearts."
He said changes must be made if the Palace Museum cannot reach out to the public and affect their real lives.
In five years, the museum has increased the proportion of the area of the Forbidden City open to the public to 76 percent. The 2,800-square-meter Yan Chi building of Wu Gate used to be a storehouse, but now has been renovated to be an exhibition hall to showcase precious historical relics from other countries.
This year, the first exhibition of Afghan cultural relics in China, exhibitions featuring French jewelry from the 18th century, and cultural relics from the Maritime Silk Road have all been displayed.
"We have built 20 viewing platforms that enable visitors to ascend to the top to take a close look at the structure of ancient buildings and the delicate paintings on them. We have even opened the walls to the public so tourists can look out over the Forbidden City and watch a 25-minute VR film to learn how the Palace Museum was built from thousands of pieces of wood and without even one single nail," said Shan.
In 2016, "Masters in the Forbidden City," a documentary series that profiled the work of museum conservators became a surprise online hit.
"It takes a seasoned conservator a whole year to restore just three to four paintings. This spirit of craftsmanship is in our blood," said Lyu, who has watched the documentary three times.
CHINA SHARES ITS EXPERIENCE
Shan, 63, is proud of what the museum has done. After visiting many countries with ancient civilizations, he came to realize that all cultural traditions, no matter in China or elsewhere, are passed down through generations and worthy of respect.X "Every single person in the world is responsible for protecting and preserving cultural relics and passing on cultural diversity. However, many glorious civilizations have faced various threats," said Shan.
In 2015, Shan went to Afghanistan. He was asked to put on a bullet-proof jacket once he boarded the airplane. When he arrived, he wasn't able to visit local historical relics because of social unrest.
That's when he got the idea to build a dialogue platform for countries with ancient civilizations to work to preserve them despite natural disasters, war, terrorism, illegal sales and improper protection methods.