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Digital Dunhuang brings cultural relics back to life

By Bi Mengying (People's Daily)    09:11, June 04, 2020
Digital Dunhuang brings cultural relics back to life
A tourist visits an exhibition of cultural relics in the Dunhuang Museum in Dunghuang, Gansu Province on May 4. Photo by Zhang Xiaoliang/People’s Daily Online

A WeChat mini-program offering online tours of China’s Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes has recorded 13.8 million visits since it was launched in late February, according to data by Tencent, China’s internet and technology giant.

Jointly developed by Dunhuang Academy China and Tencent, this mini-program has become a “master work” of China’s online tourism.

This masterpiece of online tourism enables people to appreciate at their fingertips the well-known images of flying Apsaras in the grottoes of Dunhuang located in Gansu Province, Northwest China, and brings the ancient fresco back to life.

With the mini-program, people not only can enjoy frescoes and Chinese Buddhism art in the grottoes with just clicks on their phones, but also learn about the stories behind the relics.

Tourist sites like the Mogao Grottoes and the Western Thousand-Buddha Grottoes were temporarily closed since January 24 due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Relying on “Digital Dunhuang”, the academy provided rich resources for online visitors, who stayed at home during the outbreak, and gradually reopened the tourist attractions in early May.

Over the years, the academy has been pursuing digitalization to display the splendid culture of Dunhuang, making more than 200 grottoes into digital forms.

Thanks to the Digital Dunhuang project ( launched in 2015, online visitors can enjoy frescoes and painted sculptures in 30 grottoes for free. Besides, the academy has also blazed new trails in innovative cultural products such as music, game, and cartoon, in an effort to further unleash the vitality of the cultural relics dating back thousands of years.

“As early as the 1980s, the academy put forward the vision of Digital Dunhuang, in the hope of permanently preserving and utilizing the cultural relics by means of computer and digital imaging technologies,” introduced Fan Jinshi, honorary director of Dunhuang Academy.

The 81 year-old added that the establishment of the digital repository had created conditions for protecting grottoes in a scientific way, and for better using relevant data.

Digital Dunhuang is composed of two parts. One is constructing digital repository including the grottoes, frescoes, and painted sculptures. This provides the basic information for the preservation and research of the art of Dunhuang, as well as reference for making protection measures for these relics. It is also about compiling all the documents and research results about Dunhuang that are scattered in different parts in the world.

The other part is making the digital image of the cultural relics, and developing digital films with the help of the digital file. This makes it possible for the cultural heritage of Dunhuang to be exhibited outside the grottoes.

Two decades ago, Fan was appointed as director of Dunhuang Academy China. Over the past 20 years, China has continuously strengthened preservation of the cultural relics of Dunhuang by increasing financial input, applying cutting-edge technology to preservation and renovation, and carrying out more international exchanges and cooperation.

Today, protecting the cultural heritage of Dunhuang has become an even more daunting task. Natural erosion would cause damages to the frescoes and even lead to collapse of grottoes. Besides, a surge in the number of tourists also poses severe challenges to the grottoes and its surrounding environment.

“The frescoes and painted sculptures are going through irreversible degradation till they vanish. We, the archaeologists, are racing against time to protect them. And we must shift our preservation strategy, from renovating and conserving endangered pieces to taking precautionary measures, so as to prevent potential harms as much as we can,” she said.


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(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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