BEIJING — Favorable national policies and growing demand for cultural resources by the middle class have led to an explosion in new private museums across China.
According to figures released by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) ahead of International Museum Day on May 18, China had 4,510 museums by the end of 2014, 982 or 21.8 percent of which were private. In 2009, there were only 328 private museums.
Duan Yong, an official with SACH, said a museum regulation in March stipulating that private museums receive the same treatment as state-owned institutions in funding and support has been a huge boost to the industry.
Policies issued by the central and local governments have benefited private museums in land use, financial support and the acquisition of collections. In 2013, the Ministry of Finance and SACH earmarked 100 million yuan ($16.4 million) to support private museums.
Duan said without private museums and collectors, China would lag far behind in collecting items related to folk customs as well as contemporary and modern art.
“Compared with state-owned museums, private ones have a wider audience and a closer connection with ordinary people,” said Song Xiangguang, an archaeology professor at Peking University.
Chinese billionaires have also purchased paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso from abroad.
But private museums, some experts say, are experiencing “unchecked, barbaric growth.”
According to Duan, 60 percent of private museums lack a registration and management system with inauthentic or forged art, while 30 percent of the institutions lose money.
“A larger problem is that many museums confuse collectors’ personal property with the property of the institution,” said Duan.
Some museums have used government funding and public donations for unrelated business, such as lending.
Experts said the sustainable development of private museums requires not only money and government policies, but also improved management.