The entrance to the forbidden city in Beijing, China. Lots of tourists gather front of the temple. Photo: iStock

Despite its unwelcoming name, there was little surprise when it was learned that the Forbidden City had become the world’s most popular museum destination.

The Palace Museum that will celebrate its 600th year in 2020 clocked in a record high of 17 million visitors last week for the year 2018.

This was despite the museum, previously home to 24 emperors throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties (1420-1912), imposing a daily limit of 80,000 visitors during the peak season.

There were 76 days this year that the Palace Museum imposed visitor traffic control. Director Shan Jixiang explained that the number of visitors kept increasing as evidenced by the steady increase in the off-season. He said the museum is not too crowded in the peak season, but not too low in the off-season.

The number of visitors to the Palace Museum was up 6.25% in 2018. The number has been growing since recording its first 10 million mark in 2009. It has seen an average of 15 million visitors since 2012.

By comparison, the Louvre in Paris led the pack with some 8.5 million visitors in 2017, followed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London.

However, the Palace Museum was never on the same list with these western museums because of the difference in calculating visitors.

By its own calculation, the Palace Museum said 40% of its visitors were under 30 years old, while 24% were between 30 and 40, which means the museum is more attractive to the young generation.

The museum’s digitalization efforts and creative marketing strategy – on top of opening up more areas to the public in recent years – may be the major reasons for helping the museum engage younger audiences.

Over the last decade, the museum produced more than 10,000 cultural items featuring the imperial palace and its exhibits ranging from cultural products such as downloadable apps for children to the recent limited-edition lipsticks often cause a buzz on Chinese social networks.