Once and Future

2022-05-13 23:24ByLiXiaoyang
Beijing Review 2022年10期

By Li Xiaoyang

Cecilia Lin, a college student in Henan, a province rich in cultural relics, recently became one of the first visitors to experience new trial exhibits opened at Henan Museum. In February, the museum introduced new services for visitors to interact with other visitors through their phones. The online comment system is based on augmented reality (AR) technologies available on digital payment platform Alipay, and location-based services.

“I’m always attracted by exhibitions in museums that can take me back to the past. During my visit to Henan Museum, I was startled by the dazzling and delicate exhibits, and the interactive services adding to the fun,” Lin told Beijing Review.

Henan Museum has also developed derivative products for cultural promotion. At the end of 2020, it released blind boxes with a random assortment of relic miniatures and archeological tools, which soon sold out online. Last year, the dance show Night Banquet in Tang Dynasty Palace, performed for the televised Spring Festival gala on local broadcaster Henan TV, won high praise from audiences. The program was inspired by painted pottery figurines of female musicians collected by Henan Museum, making the derivative products of the exhibits go viral.

Data released during an event on Museum Day in 2021, on May 18, showed that China was home to 5,788 registered museums by late 2020, with 1,224 categorized as national-level museums.

Many museums in China have been riding the tide of the digital era—especially in the face of COVID-19 control and prevention measures—introducing diverse product derivatives. To make the collections behind the glass more accessible to the public, museums have introduced distinctive products, begun live-streaming, and launched online exhibitions. From keepers of the past to modern promoters of culture, Chinese museums are evolving and diversifying.

As digital exhibitions become a trend, museums in China have collected data and images of cultural relics in order to create digital versions of them, which can often be more fully restored than the originals. Digitization, 3D modeling, AR and virtual reality technologies are adopted so visitors can appreciate the treasures online—any time, any place.

Technologies such as 5G Internet, 8K video and artificial intelligence (AI) have also empowered museums offline. The National Museum of China has adopted 8K ultra-high-definition technology to film and show images of cultural relics in actual sizes on large screens. With closeup view, people can view the artifacts in detail and enjoy an immersive experience.

4DAGE Technology, an artificial intelligence startup based in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, is one of the tech providers that have cooperated with many museums at home and abroad. The company released 4DKanKan, a self-developed 3D camera, in 2018. The camera can record all the information across 100 square meters of space within 10 minutes and has been adopted in many fields, especially cultural exhibitions, digital indoor displays, online exhibitions, AR interactive displays and smart guiding.

For the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, the company developed digital versions of two paintings from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Bingxi(Play on Ice) and New Year’s Banquet at the Belvedere of Imperial Effulgence, collected by the Palace Museum. The elements of culture, art and movement in the paintings are brought to life through hand drawing and 3D digital modeling. It has also worked with Henan Museum in creating a 3D digital version of Jade Figure Sitting on Heels With Tiger-Shaped Head, one of the museum’s famous artifacts. Visitors to the digital museum can view all angles of the piece by swiping their phone screens.

“Offline exhibitions are the major channel for museums to reach the public, but many people have been unable to travel far to visit museums in person due to the pandemic, causing them to increasingly embrace online museums. The digital approaches can make exhibitions more interactive and intensify the spread of Chinese culture,” Shen Ming, Chief Representative of Beijing Office and Director of International Cooperation of 4DAGE Technology, told Beijing Review.

The new trial exhibits also intend to preserve cultural relics. Due to the long history of many cultural relics, such as the murals in the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, the colors and details may fade. “With 3D technologies, cultural relics can be digitally restored and better preserved. The digitization can also help improve identification of fakes,” Shen said.

The derivative products introduced by museums not only make their artifacts more accessible, driving cultural industries and contribute to local economies. In addition to the most popular items such as calendars and lipsticks at the Palace Museum in Beijing and miniature figures at Henan Museum, ice cream in the shape of ancient buildings and famous tourist sites have also been embraced.

The first to start an online store on Taobao, an online marketplace of China’s tech company Alibaba, Suzhou Museum of Jiangsu Province has developed thousands of cultural products since 2011. According to the museum, sales volume of said products reached round 26 million yuan ($4.1 million) in 2020.

In addition to derivative items, museum collection fans can also purchase digitized cultural relics, which have become trending since last year. Based on block chain technology, a unique certificate, like non-fungible tokens, can be developed for the product to be sold, purchased, collected and used. In October 2021, Hubei Museum issued 10,000 digital copies of a sword that belonged to Goujian, a king of the State of Yue during the Warring States Period(475-221 B.C.), a cultural relic it houses. A bird-shaped wine container from the Shang Dynasty (about 1600-1046 B.C.) named fu hao xiao zun in Henan Museum was also digitized and sold online in late December.

According to a 2021 report from Central University of Finance and Economics, digitized cultural relics have driven the development of a new form of cultural consumption that facilitates the verification and authentication of the cultural products sold, and provides protection against fraudulent or illegal practices. The future development of this kind of digital marketplace will make the protection and spread of traditional culture more efficient.

As museums continue to explore new modes of operation, problems have surfaced, such as the protection of intellectual property of derivatives and how to avoid museums becoming overly commercialized. The release of digitized cultural relics has also posed risks, as cases exist of speculators making purchases with the aim of profiteering.

“Initially, the digitized cultural relics market may see speculation, in which case second-hand trade of some pieces should be forbidden,” Pan Helin, Executive Director of the Digital Economy Academy at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, Hubei Province, told Beijing Review.

As the pandemic impacts have eased for them, museums are seeing increasing numbers of visitors, but the road to digitization still plays a significant role. According to Shen, some people know very little about an exhibition before visiting in person. Conducting online versions can attract people to visit the exhibitions in person, in the same way consumers watch movie reviews (and previews) before going to see the actual film. This way, online exhibits will become a driving force for offline visits. Since many such events often last for a finite period, digital museums increase the number of people one exhibit can reach, and also allow offline visitors to take a second look online.

“Offline and online displays do not compete with one another. They can, in fact, complement each other. In the era of big data, we can use information technology to present the underlying stories and improve interactions between exhibits and visitors to create a permanent record online,” Shen said. BR