Short video series sparks discussion over lost relics

2023-09-12 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

A poster for the second episode of the short video series Escape from the British Museum, which tells the story of a Chinese jade teapot's journey back to its homeland. (Photo Provided to China Daily)

A short video series, which tells the story of a jade teapot that miraculously comes to life and embarks on a journey from the British Museum to its homeland in China, has touched a chord with millions of viewers, intensifying calls for the museum to repatriate relics that were unlawfully taken away from the country.

With the last episode released on Wednesday, the three-part series, titled Escape From the British Museum, with a total duration of just over 16 minutes, has attracted more than 340 million views and garnered nearly 2 million comments on Douyin, a short-video platform.

In the story, the jade teapot undergoes a magical transformation, assuming the form of a young woman who escapes from the museum and encounters Zhang Yong'an, a Chinese journalist in the United Kingdom. She implores him to take her back to China.

After the young lady returns home, she not only travels across her homeland but also carries "letters" written by other artifacts in the museum to their respective families in China.

The series has been made by two young Chinese vloggers: a 26-year-old and a 23-year-old who use the pseudonyms "Jianbing Guozai" and "Xiatian Meimei".

"Jianbing Guozai", whose real name is Zhang Jiajun, is a graduate from Sichuan University of Media and Communications in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

Zhang said that the idea of the series was inspired by a netizen, who in January suggested the making of a cartoon series, in which various artifacts assume a life of their own to escape from the museum and return home in time for the Chinese New Year.

Zhang decided to turn this idea into a video, and it took him three months to prepare for it. This entailed conducting research on the British Museum and crafting the storyline for the videos.

The efforts have been proven more than worth it. The scenes in the videos have touched netizens in many ways. Some were moved by the detail of "writing brushstrokes on English newspapers", while others were struck by the intense dialogue among the artifacts.

A netizen named "Nanfangyoujia-ren" commented, "Tears welled up in my eyes inexplicably when the 'letters' from the relics were revealed."

Zhang mentioned in an interview with People's Daily that the "letters" written by the Chinese artifacts in the British Museum were inspired by a visit to the museum, in which he and "Xiatian Meimei" felt a personal connection with the relics.

"This is a two-way redemption story. The series' main characters, the teapot and the journalist, are overseas wanderers, and they have a common connection, which is their homeland. Their emotions blend and resonate," said Zhang.

A large number of netizens were deeply moved by the aspiration of the artifacts to "return home". They made comments expressing the hope that the cultural relics languishing overseas could "return with dignity and honor".

"Feiyutang", another netizen, expressed his determination to persist on the path of cultural heritage preservation after watching the videos. "I firmly believe that cultural relics lost abroad will definitely, without a doubt, return to the loving embrace of our homeland. Let's work together."

The British Museum has a collection of about 23,000 Chinese artifacts, which span the Neolithic Age to the present and include paintings, prints, jades, bronzeware, lacquerware and ceramics. Some of the artifacts were collected during periods of turmoil and social upheaval in China, between the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.

British forces invaded Beijing twice, in 1860 and 1900, leading to the loss of numerous relics from the Chinese royal collection.

According to the museum's social media posts, the teapot featured in the video is a creation of Chinese contemporary jade artist Yu Ting. Though not a traditional cultural relic, this exquisitely made jade teapot, famed for its translucent body and intricate craftsmanship, has profoundly touched the imagination of the Chinese public.

Yu, who watched the series, said he is pleased with the attention his work has garnered among young people and the enthusiasm for traditional culture expressed through the numerous comments. "The work we do is aimed at preserving traditional culture, and this makes us feel that what we are doing is very meaningful," Yu told the Yangtse Evening Post.

On Aug 16, the British Museum announced that many items from its collection, including gold jewelry and gems, were found to be missing. These are presumed stolen or damaged.

This revelation closely coincided with the release of the video series. The original plan was to unveil it at the end of the summer, Zhang said.

Zhang expressed his gratitude for the love the series has garnered from viewers and said he hopes that everyone would pay more attention to the plight of cultural relics lying overseas.

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