Search Museum Next

Hitting Chinese sweet spots: from cultural delivery to romantic “time travel” 

How to appeal to the young crowd? In Europe, museums are very experienced in creating night adventures, silent discos and more for local youngsters. However, when it comes to young Chinese, museums are a bit uncertain about how to hit their sweet spots.

Nevertheless, young Chinese are particularly curious. When the Palace Museum invited young people to create pop music for its 11 classic paintings, it received over 500 submissions within a month. Within 48 hours of launching the music album “ancient paintings that can sing”, 34 million listeners tuned in to this fantastic mix of traditional paintings and modern music. Here are a few more initiatives to help museums understand how young Chinese live their lives and what makes them tick.

Order a “treasure” delivery

Around a thousand years ago in the Song dynasty, food delivery started becoming popular in China. In the renowned painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival, which captures the bustling street scenes of the Northern Song capital, a delivery man was spotted carrying a food basket. While sizzling pork barbecue was the popular order in winter, liquorice dessert with minced ice was the choice of the hot summer.

Thanks to the rise of delivery apps, delivery culture has enjoyed a comeback in modern China. More than 421 million Chinese order daily meals via the apps. On the app Eleme backed by the tech giant Alibaba, over 65 percent of users are born after 1995. While their ancestors ordered the delivery to enjoy life, young Chinese choose delivery for the comfort, convenience and a unique sense of freedom.

Especially in megacities like Beijing and Shanghai, young people spend at least two hours a day commuting to and from work. When they finally arrive at home, they are a bit exhausted to cook and just want to have meals delivered to their doorstep within 30 minutes. As they wish to indulge themselves a bit and celebrate the precious freedom at night, spicy crayfish, garlic clams and barbecue become popular options after 8pm.

To invite these busy young people to “have a magical taste of the history and culture”, 12 museums including China Silk Museum and China Tea Museum brought themselves to the app Eleme during this year’s international museum day. From 18 to 24 May, customers could place the order and receive their delivery within an hour. From snacks inspired by the relics to the book The Classic of Tea, there were diverse options covering food, stationery, accessories and more. A complimentary treasure bag filled with creative gifts from museums was also given away to some lucky customers. While the sales figures were not disclosed, the hashtag “treasures delivered to your home” got more than 6.3 million views on China’s social platform Weibo.

Go on a bike safari

Chinese and Dutch both share the passion for the bicycles. When foreigners first arrived in China in the 1980s, they were stunned to see a flowing river of bikes on the streets and hear the ding ding bells. Cycling was even a symbol of romance in innocent times. In movies like To Our Youth that is Fading Away, the guy was riding a bike carrying his girl through the campus. When the scene changed to bustling streets with car horns, their carefree days came to an end.

Nowadays, the bicycle has also become a language to express the free spirit and the desire to explore. Night cycling has become increasingly popular in China. When young office workers leave their cubicles, they embark on an adventure to discover street scenes that are often neglected during the day and let their minds fly freely in the cool evening breeze. The Kröller-Müller Museum, located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park in the Netherlands, understands this language and invites young Chinese to explore on a bike.

“Every September, we organize a day outing for around 150 new Chinese students,” says Lies Boelrijk, Director of Marketing and Business Development. After seeing the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world and strolling through its garden with over 160 iconic sculptures, young Chinese get on the cute white bicycles to explore the diverse landscapes. “It may look like you are in a desert in Africa because we have dunes,” she adds. “You may also see the heather’s purple flowers in full bloom.”

“It’s really a lovely day and they are happy to tell their families and friends,” says Boelrijk. What’s more, the museum is “not that crowded like some big ones in the city center. So visitors can come closer to the paintings”. Every year, it attracts over 15,000 Chinese visitors, who aspire an intimate encounter with the art and a bike safari through the nature.

Fantasize a romantic “time travel”

Over 50 million young people in China are the so-called “empty nest youth”. They flock to big cities alone, with a dream for a better life. But when they come back to their rented room after a long day, their “nest” is dark and empty with nobody greeting them. Last June, a pop-up Museum of Loneliness opened at Beijing 798 art district, which showcased their “sweet and sour” moments, such as sharing a hotpot with a teddy bear companion.

Though Beijing has a population of over 20 million, love doesn’t happen easily in its overcrowded metros. Thus museums wish to be the place where young people meet and have some sparks. The Capital Museum in Beijing is particularly suitable for this purpose, as it hosts a fascinating folk culture collection where visitors could explore intriguing matchmaking rituals and even pray to Chinese gods of love. For the past four years, it has hosted a dating night in the ancient style, also an ideal escape from modern life. In fact, travelling back to ancient China and falling in love with historical figures is one of the most popular themes in online fantasy fictions.

On Singles’ Day 11 November last year, around 90 participants came to the Capital Museum for a romantic “time travel”. Some girls were even in fairylike costumes. From guessing lantern riddles to creating paper lanterns and carrying lanterns to visit the silk culture exhibition, the museum designed a variety of experiences to enrich the evening. Moreover, young people could try their hands in Touhu, a popular game during banquets two thousand years ago when the tipsy attendants threw arrows into a wine pot.

Those who mastered the game could win the ancient currency called copper coins. The highlight of the evening was to buy presents for their crush in an ancient night market where vendors were hawking everything from tea snacks to accessories. Since there was no Alipay or WeChat pay during that time, they had to use their hard-earned copper coins! To hint good feelings to someone in ancient China, the woman would give a silk sachet with aromatic herbs inside while the man would pick a velvet flower headwear as a present. 12 pairs matched that evening.

Hence to click with young Chinese audience, European museums may take a peek into their dreams, struggles and little secret fantasies and then find a way to hit their sweetest spot.

About the author – Lin Wang

Lin means forest in Chinese. I discover fresh consumer insights and help international companies adapt their marketing strategies to China. My articles on Chinese consumer culture have appeared on Luxury Society, Jing Daily, South China Morning Post, RADII, etc. I was born in Ningbo, a bustling port known for its dumplings and seafood.

Find Lin on LinkedIn here.

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week