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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Forbidden City still lures inquisitive public

By Tang Yue, Zhang Yuchen and Wu Wencong (China Daily)

10:43, February 16, 2012

The Palace Museum gate in Beijing is often used as a backdrop for tourist photos. (China Daily / Wang Jing)

History and splendor fascinate new generation, Tang Yue, Zhang Yuchen and Wu Wencong report in Beijing.

Oct 10, 1925. The day that China opened the door to arguably its most mysterious treasure: the Forbidden City.

After serving as a home to 24 emperors during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, as well as a political and ceremonial center for 500 years, the huge complex was opened to the public as the Palace Museum.

"On the first day, tens of thousands of citizens desperate to see the imperial home and treasures flooded in," historian Wu Ying wrote at the time. "It was so crowded, some people were unable to move for two hours and missed the opening ceremony."

Today, the Forbidden City stirs just as much curiosity - and, at times, controversy.

After a turbulent 2011, new curator Shan Jixiang on Tuesday revealed how the museum plans to cope with the challenges of the modern age: open more areas to handle more visitors and better protect its relics.

"It's going to be a challenge," Shan told reporters at a news conference. "We can't solve the problems (we have) by simply raising the price (of admittance) and shutting out tourists."

Since inviting the public in to enjoy its architecture and vast collection of antiquities, the Palace Museum has been one of Beijing's most popular destinations. (The museum was closed during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) and the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).)

Last year, the museum received a record-breaking 14.2 million visitors from home and abroad, twice the amount that passed through its doors in 2002. And the figure is expected to increase by 10 percent this year.

However, the sheer numbers of people who are arriving at one time are causing concern among experts about the damage that is being done to the relic, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

On Oct 4, during the National Day holiday, a peak time for visitors, the museum admitted more than 142,000 people almost five times the ideal volume set by the museum.

To address the problem, Shan said the governing body will increase the space that is open to the public from 46 percent to 76 percent. This will not only feed visitors' curiosity, but also spread them out so they are not putting too much stress on one particular area.

At the moment, the buildings on the Forbidden City's central axis, between the north and south gates, see the most traffic, including Hall of Supreme Harmony, one of Asia's major oriental palaces.

The new moves will open up more of the two large wings, which already boast exhibition halls filled with jewels and classic paintings. And when several repairs are completed, the museum's administrative offices and research facilities will also be moved away from the "red wall zone", the core of the palace, said Shan.

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