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Tsinghua professors use digitization to revitalize ancient Chinese cultural relics

By Jiang Jie (People's Daily Online)    16:44, September 10, 2018




Tsinghua University on Monday opened a special exhibition on cultural heritage protection through innovative research, which aims to revitalize traditional Chinese culture amid the nation’s fervor over digital cultural exhibitions.

The five-day exhibition features a number of famous Chinese cultural heritage items, including Yuanmingyuan’s (Old Summer Palace) noted garden of Haiyantang, Mogao Cave’s murals in Dunhuang, and Chinese hieroglyphs as well as other centuries-old Chinese paintings.

The special exhibition in Beijing is scheduled to tour Shanghai, Shenzhen, and other cities at later dates.

The Digital Yuanmingyuan Project, founded by Guo Daiheng, an 80-year-old associate professor from Tsinghua University, has attracted great attention, as the exhibition aims to rebuild the once wondrous garden of Haiyantang in virtual reality.

A total of 2,106 stone blocks from Haiyantang were recorded in 2015, according to project statistics. Of that number, some 150 of them were virtualized using a 3D scanner and then placed in their historical location in the virtual world.

More than 10,000 pieces of historical archives, 4,000 restored design drawings, and 2,000 digital architectural models have been collected in the projects 20 years, which has involved 3,000 researchers from 50 institutions, and has restored 440 thousand square meters of scenic area of Yuanmingyuan to date.

“This is why we are talking about digitization, so that we can make the site known to the general public,” said Guo.

The “rebirth” of Haiyantang reflects the general way of digital exhibits, from paintings to Chinese hieroglyphics. According to Lu Xiaobo, dean of Tsinghua’s Academy of Arts and Design, the digitization of cultural heritage requires meticulous data collection and analysis, as well as a knowledge pool to capture and present the exact beauty of the relics.

Lu said that the restored murals of Mogao Cave even take into consideration the evolution of colored paints in order to restore the original colors of the paintings.

Chen Nan, chief designer of the exhibition featuring Chinese hieroglyphics and an associate professor at Tsinghua, also agreed that innovation must rest on a sound foundation of adequate research and study.

“The public’s understanding of Chinese hieroglyphics remains minimal, but through emojis and other creations with hieroglyph designs that are popular among the younger generation, there will be more public participation,” Chen said.

Virtual museums allow people to feel the beauty of a site without having to visit it physically. And they will set an example for future cultural protection, Lu noted.

“Chinese museums have just started going digital. The country’s museums need to integrate more resources and exchange more experience for better development,” Wang Zhigang, exhibition curator, told People’s Daily, as more and more Chinese museums and galleries rely on technology to raise more awareness about traditional Chinese culture.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Jiang Jie, Bianji)

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