As the main, English-language online presence for the National Museum of China (NMC), this website generally focusses on presenting information about the museum, its operations, and goals, rather than its collections. A simplified Chinse version of the site also exists and is somewhat more active/updated than its English counterpart, but for the purpose of this review, the English version has primarily been used.
Upon arriving on the landing page, users have the option of navigating around the site either via a number of tabs at the top of the screen, or scrolling downwards to view a selection of sub-sections. Exploring the tabs, most users will find that each section is relatively light on content, with each subsection usually only containing short, cursory paragraphs about the area in question.
Beginning with the About the NMC tab, this section provides some brief notes about the museum’s history and current leadership. Acquisitions, in turn, mostly details the museum’s ongoing commitment to growing its collection, while the Research tab contains information about the NMC’s research institutes and researchers – the latter only being available in simplified Chinese at this time. A catalogue of the NMC’s in-house journal (the Journal of National Museum of China) is also available and lists the table of contents for each issue, which can be purchased via contacting the museum. The last three tabs on the navigation bar (Education, Cultural and Creative Industry, and Visit) are geared particularly towards museum visitors, these sections providing information on the NMC’s education programs/tours, museum store, and on-site amenities respectively.
In contrast to the above, the Collections tab gives users a chance to explore highlights from the museum’s collection. These have been grouped into 9 distinct themes, ranging from ‘Objects of Chinese Revolutionary History’ to ‘Ancient Rare Books and Stele Rubbings’. Clicking on each theme will bring up a range of items, with each item being accompanied by a short write-up and a high resolution photo of the item in question. Given that the number of items for each theme can range between 1-50, there is a fairly considerable amount of content here.
Of particular note in this tab is also the Collection Catalogue, which is split into 2 parts and collectively contains over 700,000 entries. Unfortunately for English users, this resource is only available in simplified Chinese and does not seem to have a search function. The catalogue itself contains minimal information, including only the item name, period, record number, and a low resolution image of the item. In light of how the NMC has obviously gone through great pains to make these records publicly available, it’s disappointing that there is no real way to engage with the content or even search the catalogue.
Another section that will potentially be of interest to users is the Exhibitions one, which hosts information on exhibitions past, present, and upcoming. A definite highlight in this section is the ability to view 2 virtual exhibitions: one on the Tang dynasty and another on archaeological discoveries from the Jiangkou Battlefield. Using the NMC’s digital viewer, users can ‘travel’ through each exhibition and view most items up close. Nevertheless, given the lack of English translations and even descriptions for some items, most users will likely find these exhibitions somewhat limiting – though there is definitely still value to be had in being able to ‘visit’ the NMC in this manner.
Given its overall content, educators can consider using the NMC site in units pertaining to museum studies and public history. A useful classroom activity will be to compare and contrast the online presence of museums across different regions, so as to interrogate the unique purpose of each one. Students can also explore the virtual exhibition and report on the usefulness of these ‘visits’ as opposed to real life ones, or even brainstorm potential mini-exhibitions of their own based off the NMC’s extensive record of exhibitions. On the more material front, educators can consider using specific highlighted items from the museum’s collection as a means to explore periods of Chinese history.
Design-wise, the NMC website can be slightly difficult to navigate as clicking on any link automatically opens it up in a new tab. Some links also lead to dead/empty pages, while others direct to the simplified Chinese version of the page instead – indicating that there is no English translation. In summation, the NMC site has a number of areas that will prove interesting to educators and most casual visitors, but overall, its main function is to provide information about the museum itself. Though there is great promise in its Collection Catalogue and virtual exhibitions, the lack of a search function in the former and English translation in the latter limits its useability.