In China, the entry to about 50,000 public museums, libraries, art galleries, memorials and other cultural institutions is free, so is the entry to the many lectures and exhibitions these institutions organize.
Yet "someone" pays the bill for the free services.
According to data released by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in April, the central government allocated about 47 billion yuan ($7.2 billion) to these institutions from 2015 to 2020. During the same period, the government also spent about 82 billion yuan to support digital services and volunteers' work in the cultural field. And more than 300 cities in the country have published catalogues on the cultural services they offer.
"A priority for setting up a network for cultural services is to fix a basic bottom line," said Zhang Xu, vice-minister of culture and tourism. And "a project to build cultural service facilities at the grassroots level is progressing with steady steps".
The commitment to safeguard people's cultural rights has also been part of the country's poverty alleviation work. From 2015 to 2020, to help local communities build their own public services system, the government sent more than 19,000 cultural workers to poverty-stricken areas, the erstwhile revolutionary hubs that faced development difficulties, and frontier areas with large non-Han populations.
"Basic public cultural service facilities now cover the whole country," said Ye Yanlin, deputy director of the department of science, education and culture under the Ministry of Finance. "However, due to historical and economic reasons, there remains a gap between different regions and between urban and rural areas in terms of the quality of service. So in the next stage, priority will be given to the central and western regions in the allocation of resources, in order to narrow that gap."
According to Ye, fiscal support for cultural services in the counties that have recently emerged out of poverty will not be reduced in the interim so they can be ushered onto the path of rural revitalization. Also, the evaluation system for determining the quality of services will help the decision-makers to judiciously adjust financial support for each cultural venue.
"In the process of building the public cultural service system, the government has to ensure fairness," said Li Guoxin, a professor at the department of information management of Peking University.
"To guarantee social justice, the market should not be allowed to manipulate the services," Li said. "A major function of the system is to popularize the arts among the people, especially at the grassroots level."
"And more digital channels should be used to catch up with the times," Li added.