Silk Road relics gain traction with whimsical memorabilia

2023-11-20 09:00:24CGTN Editor : Mo Honge ECNS App Download

Visiting cultural relics and museums has become a new trend for many in recent years, thanks to emerging digital technologies and wild creative products.

On social media, more and more people are posting pictures and videos about their latest exciting discoveries, be they brand new cool museum memorabilia or the new exhibitions showing ancient relics with immersive technology.

"Digital technology has played an incomparable role in showcasing ancient cultural relics," said Su Bomin, director of the Dunhuang Academy, at a forum at the 7th Silk Road international Exposition and the Investment and Trade Forum for Cooperation between East and West China in Xi'an City this week.

Located in northwest China's Gansu Province, Dunhuang was one of the initial trading hubs encountered by merchants traveling to China from western regions. The Mogao Caves, consisting of 735 caves carved into the cliffs to the south of the city, house the most extensive collection of historical documents associated with the Silk Roads, providing valuable insights into cultural, religious, social, and commercial activities.

They are the world's largest and most well-preserved cave ruins. However, only 492 caves remain of 1,000 caves and only 30 of those are open for tourists to visit due to preservation efforts - and that's where the technology came in.

According to Su, they established a data center for digital technology research and application in April 2006. As of 2022, the institute has collected data on 289 caves, re-constructed the space of 206 caves and entirely rebuilt 44 colored sculptures in 3D models.

Key technologies used include data collection and archiving, 3D modeling, and virtual positioning and measurement tools.

"Sometimes we need to merge over 1,000 images to synthesize one high-resolution image of the mural, with layers of works on color correction and detail refining," said Su. He added they also generated 360 degree panoramic images of the caves.

"In the past, we relied on the painters to copy the murals [for the display], which usually could take up to years. Now we have sufficient data that we collected over the years to rebuild a virtual Mogao Caves," said Su.

The institute also collaborated with Chinese tech giants such as Huawei and Tencent to push forward technology innovation in cultural relics such as big data and AI applications, which significantly help the institute tour the cultural relics around the globe more often.

The application can help the users enjoy a high-resolution VR experience of 30 caves anywhere. So far, there have been a total of 17 million online visits on the digital archives from nearly 80 countries including China, U.S., UK, Japan, Russia and Canada. 

Besides for this, creative ideas for merchandise have made the cultural relics even more popular.

Tang Niu, a cartoon representing a typical female figurine from the Tang Dynasty, is one of the products sold at the Shaanxi History Museum.

"Its image really resonates with local people in Xi'an and is getting its popularity among increasing number of visitors," said Hou Ningbin, the director of Shaanxi History Museum. "The image can be seen in so many places in Xi'an, in fact, the tumbler girl dressed in a Tang costume is a derivative image of Tang Niu." 

The tumbler girl has been an internet sensation in China. She is a dancer in Tang costume performing at a scenic spot in Xi'an. Many travelers visit Xi'an just to get a picture or video with her that they can post online. 

Similarly, the Gansu Provincial Museum has a plush toy inspired by its signature relic of a bronze sculpture showcasing a galloping horse treading on a flying swallow, which has gone viral online.

The funny-looking toy has been described as "ugly but cute" and sold out almost instantly, and in doing so, has made the museum - and its gift shop - incredibly popular.

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