Virtual museum marks special day

Do you fancy watching a traditional Chinese soccer match staged 2,500 years ago or being instructed by an ancient qigong master on how to play the 1,800-year-old Five-Animal Exercise?

These are real experiences in a new virtual museum, unveiled before International Museum Day which falls today.

Designed by more than 100 Chinese computer scientists, historians and sports experts, a digital Olympic museum is scheduled to open to the public by 2007, although it could be earlier than that.

The museum, however, is not in a building; it will actually be a website, and is therefore free to "enter."

"The database has already been set up. I hope it will be put into operation by the end of this year so we have enough time to improve the museum based on public feedback," said Shen Xukun, one of the leading experts involved in setting up the museum.

Shen, a professor with the School of Computer Science and Engineering at Beihang University, said that in the digital museum people can become familiar with various Chinese traditional sports through three-dimensional animation.

For instance, people can see on a computer screen that two teams consisting of 12-16 players on each side compete to kick a "ju" (a type of leather ball filled with feathers) into crescent-shaped goal posts at each end of the field.

The game emerged during the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC) and is called "cuju" in Chinese. It has been reported that the game is believed to be the predecessor of soccer by the International Football Association.

The museum also has a programme to teach people ancient Chinese physical exercise, said Shen.

"Take the Five-Animal Exercise for example. You can follow the movements of an animated qigong master, posture by posture.

"He will stop at some key movements. A digital camera on screen can capture the learner's posture and only when the posture meets the requirements will the master continue to play," said Shen.

The Five-Animal Exercise, based on the movements of the tiger, deer, bear, ape and bird, was created by Hua Tuo (AD 141-203), the most famous Chinese doctor in ancient China.

The virtual museum will also hold videos about previous Olympic Games and all kinds of information about the Olympics, said Shen.

In Shanghai, a package of events to mark International Museum Day was also unveiled yesterday by the municipal government.

These will include free tours for ordinary citizens to over 40 historical buildings, a series of lectures given by professors on different artistic aspects, and a forum for museum experts.

The events have been organized with the theme of "Museums Bridging Culture," decided by the Advisory Committee of the International Council of Museums.

The events will run for one week to promote the significance of museums.

Chen Xiejun, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Cultural Relics Administrative Bureau (CRAB), revealed a highlight is free tours for ordinary citizens this weekend.

He added: "Shanghai is a city with high historical value. We have 92 museums and 4,199 historical buildings and cultural relics sites. Many have not previously been open to the public as we wanted to protect the buildings and respect the rights of the owners."

However, the urge to let more local residents know the value of the city's architecture soon exceeded any worries that opening the sites might lead to damage.

Tan Yufeng, division chief of the Historical Building Department in CRAB, said it was the second time the bureau has allowed residents to visit some of the old famous buildings and sites for free.

Last year, 23 were opened to ordinary visitors for no fee, and 46,000 of them went along.

The free tours have won enthusiastic feedback from visitors and there was no damage, he added.

"Therefore, we gained confidence in opening more buildings and sites to visitors," Tan said .

This year, the 40 sites vary more in style than those last year. They mainly feature the former homes of celebrities and dignitaries in Shanghai.

Tan also noted that experts who formerly opposed the plan, fearing damage, should calm down as the number of visitors will be strictly controlled.

As well as the tours, a series of lectures will explain about history, music, painting and drama.

Chen said, "Some lectures are interactive ones which will encourage children to do such things as make pottery and cast bronze mirrors."

Source: China Daily

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