Why China Has Hundreds Of Empty 'Ghost' Museums

August 22, 2019

This is an insightful piece on the economic and political factors that have led to hundreds of “ghost museums” being built in China....

 

“As a politician you’re not elected, you’re appointed. So if there’s an initiative from the central government to construct more cultural institutions, you, as a mayor, want to impress upon your superiors your ability to follow through on these initiatives. So you go out and you build these facilities. Then when your superiors come to town for meetings you drive them around the center of your new town, your new city, and show them what beautiful museums and cultural facilities you have.

 

According to the World Bank, local municipalities in China must put up 80% of their operating expenses while only receiving 40% of the country’s tax revenue, so they are perpetually cash-strapped and grasping for fresh streams of income.... the proceeds from land sales and the initial taxes and fees that come from the sale of new property adequately fills the public coffers...

 

...According to Johnson, what has fueled China’s museum building boom has been a strategy where a local government will grant a developer a prime parcel of commercial construction land on the contingency that they also build and operate a museum (or an opera house, library, etc). In this way, a city can obtain their iconic public buildings while having someone else pick up the tab.

 

...That isn’t to say that they can’t hire someone to be the curator to develop content, but at the end they don’t really care...

 

The implication and reality is that with this huge building boom happening there aren’t enough curators, there’s not enough content…“

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