With more than a billion daily users, WeChat is an essential tool for cultural destinations striving to connect with China. The vast majority of Chinese museums are already well-established on WeChat, but there remains huge potential for western institutions to utilize the platform to engage Chinese audiences. Jing Travel examines how cultural institutions performed on WeChat across April and looks behind the numbers by giving insight on successful strategies.
Western Museums and Cultural Institutions
The contrast in fortunes is stark. As the majority of global museums enter another month of closure, their Chinese counterparts have not only begun reopening, but some are calling on the public to donate personal items to commemorate the nation’s successful fight against coronavirus — frankly unimaginable in most countries at present.
In January and February, Chinese museums set a precedent for what it means to be a ‘closed’ cultural institution with initiatives that harnessed the full spectrum of China’s digital ecosystem. Western museums have followed suit, but the challenge rests with making these efforts discoverable and engaging for Chinese audiences at a time when in-person visits remain a distant reality.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Following the Met’s partnership with Chinese product licensing experts Alfilo Brands, the New York institution has channeled its collection into a string of popular IP goods from Mondrian watches to travel kits featuring Van Gogh’s irises to its latest offering; jewellery inspired by the unicorn tapestries at The Cloisters. In the context of WeChat posts, creating desirable products is only one step, offering engaging cultural commentary and making them relevant is the next.
The Met’s most read post from April achieves precisely this. Image heavy, it begins by explaining the meaning of unicorns in medieval Europe and outlining the various types of thread that comprise the tapestry. Next, it highlights a pomegranate tree, ginseng, and wild orchids drawing parallels between their symbolic and medicinal use in China and Europe. Only following this introduction does the post offer its new products and links to buy them on the Met’s Tmall page.
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago’s (AIC) leading post from April walks users through its full range of digital offerings, beginning by answering the most basic question; how to log on.
While most of the digital initiatives on show are in English, the breadth of resources is impressive and boasts wide appeal. They include a deep catalogue of videos, art-making activities for kids, and deep-dives on individual works from the collection using 3D modelling technology— which can be enjoyed alongside tracks on AIC’s SoundCloud account. By creating a step-by-step guide to its digital programming in a single WeChat post, AIC creates a document for Chinese users to refer to and, in all hope, get inspired by.
Chinese Museums and Cultural Institutions
After months under lockdown, China eased restrictions ahead of the Labor Day holiday with museums beginning to welcome visitors once again — albeit under stringent health and safety measures. Destinations limit entrants and a cultural visit now includes temperature checks on arrival, a declaration of clean health (through app), and social distancing.
With shifting schedules and visitation at many cultural sites capped at 30 percent, communicating opening hours, health policies, and ticket options is essential. WeChat has proved the tool of choice with destinations keeping potential visitors informed and, in many cases, encouraging bookings directly through their accounts.
In lieu of ongoing exhibitions, Beijing’s premier contemporary art museum is embracing the abstract by welcoming visitors into its vacant gallery spaces — an exhibition it has labelled #emptyUCCA. Since April 23, UCCA has opened to a maximum of 300 daily visitors with guests required to reserve tickets through its WeChat account at least 24 hours in advance.
On May 21, the 798 Art District institution is due to open “Meditations in an Emergency”. “The show is really responding to the situation,” said Philip Tinari, UCCA’s director, in an interview last month, “it’s [coronavirus] a global global event like we’ve never seen before…it puts China’s relationship with the world into a whole new dynamic.” UCCA is also planning an exhibition on computing art for the second half of 2020.
Architecturally, Suzhou Museum stands as one of China’s most celebrated. With the passing of its designer I. M. Pei last year — a world revered architect, best known for creating the glass pyramid at the Louvre’s entrance — Suzhou Museum has been reflecting on the master through its WeChat account. A recent article taken from Lin Bing’s memoir describes a final visit to Mr. Pei’s New York apartment and sharing a traditional Suzhou dish — bamboo shoot soup with pork. The article received more than 100K views with many leaving heartfelt comments.
In addition, Suzhou Museum recently partnered with TianXia, a popular video game by NetEase, to launch a range of collaborative products. Goods blend artwork from Suzhou’s collection with the elements of the role-playing game — an umbrella, for instance, uses the handle of a sword. Purchasable through a QR Code linking to Suzhou Museum’s Taobao account, the products are further evidence of Chinese museums infusing traditional values with pop culture in a fun and creative way.