Arts & Entertainment

Culture returns to Beijing amid strict COVID-19 prevention measures

By Jesus Centeno

Beijing, May 15 (efe-epa).- A boy takes off his face mask and paints Xu Beihong’s famous 1948 artwork “Galloping Horse” in his notebook, while a woman in her sixties emphasizes the merits of the calligraphy of historical literary figure Su Shi. Culture is gradually returning to Beijing with the reopening of several museums this week.

Since Wednesday, the National Art Museum has been allowing around 50 visitors per day as long as they maintain a safe distance of a meter from other people, present a green QR code that certifies their good health and wear a mask. And those who book in advance have about three hours to tour the museum before their turn end. These are the coronavirus prevention measures imposed by the capital’s authorities to see an exhibition that was due to open on Jan. 19, coinciding with the Chinese New Year.

After passing through the necessary checkpoints, the visitors go from one gallery to the next trying as far as possible to prevent a crowd from building up despite their obvious eagerness to take in some culture after an almost three-month lockdown.

“I have been coming here since 201. I have come on many weekends, during vacation… I have spent a lot of time here. I like what the museum transmits, the works they have brought. But we have to listen to the experts, if people relax and don’t care… we have to go back to normal very gradually,” one visitor, Dong Qin, told EFE.

In another room, works donated by artists of the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts are exhibited with the aim of “studying in depth and putting into practice the important speeches of Chinese President Xi Jinping on art…,” while other rooms stand out for the delicate classical Chinese works displayed there.

“The museum has displayed its most precious treasures. I had planned to come a long time ago. This exhibition had been open for just a few days before it was closed due to the epidemic. When I saw on the internet that the museum would reopen, I booked without delay,” another visitor, Mu Xiaoli, told EFE.

The Forbidden City, the royal palace complex from which 24 Chinese emperors ruled, had planned many seminars, exhibitions and activities to commemorate its 600th anniversary, but after being closed since Jan. 24 on account of the virus, it is now only allowing 8,000 visits a day during its reopening.

The flags that Chinese tour guides normally carried so that visitors did not lose sight of them have given way to families, children running around and dozens of photography buffs and devotees of “cosplay” – the abbreviation for “costume play,” in which people dress up as a specific character.

A girl tells EFE that she has come to “witness the sight that is Chinese history” and that her elegant red, embroidered dress is typical of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), while that of her friend is characteristic of the Ming (1368-1644).

COVID-19 has made the Palace Museum, as it is also known, more attractive to visitors but it has also disrupted the plans of tourist guides such as Spain’s Cesar Casellas, who told EFE in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony that the last few months have been terrible for his work.

“My last tour was on Jan. 28. I’ve been unable to do anything for three months. Although China is slowly returning to normal, foreigners still can’t enter the country, so I’ll have to focus on people already living in Beijing or coming from other Chinese cities,” he said.

While the capital’s state museums can already receive visitors – the National allows 3,000 visitors daily – private galleries such as the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing have had to use their ingenuity. Although it will be closed until May 21, it is inviting people to visit the completely empty space under the hashtag #emptyUCCA.

Right after, it will inaugurate the exhibition, “Meditations in an Emergency,” a reflection on the usefulness of art during the pandemic and the impact of control and prevention measures imposed on people in many parts of the world.

On the other hand, cinemas will have to wait despite the fact that the government is already allowing the opening of closed places in the face of the apparent control of COVID-19 in the Asian country.

Ren Zhonglun, chairman of the Shanghai Film Group Corp, recently told state broadcaster CCTV that it will take some time, probably until June, until cinemas can meet the requirements for accepting customers.

Ren estimated losses in this sector at about 30 billion yuan ($4.23 billion), half of what was posted in 2019, and said that despite government funds, it would be necessary to follow the evolution of the sector since online viewing is already a new normal.

The culture industry has tried to enhance its online presence, and spaces such as the National Center for the Performing Arts have just released a second series of virtual concerts this year, “Sound of Summer Blooms,” which has already reached tens of millions of views on various platforms.

However, concert halls in the capital such as the central Dusk Dawn Club have had to close due to COVID-19.

The club’s manager told EFE that, in addition to the lack of revenue, is the uncertainty of not knowing when they will be allowed to resume live shows and the increasingly strict regulations in the “hutongs” – narrow alleys formed by rows of single storey traditional courtyard houses – which has led to the closure of the venue. EFE-EPA

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