Improved digital technology preserving China’s cultural relics


Concept art for the Digital Library Cave Photo: Courtesy of Dunhuang Academy

Concept art for the Digital Library Cave Virtual Figure Jia Yao Photos: Courtesy of Dunhuang Academy

Virtual figure Jia Yao Photo: Courtesy of Dunhuang Academy

A CGI figure of a dancer wearing hair accessories and traditional Chinese clothing helps popularize Buddhist art by inheriting dance moves that emerged thousands of years ago. The small figurine was inspired by the flying Apsaras (female water spirits in Buddhist culture) depicted in the murals of Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, a major treasure trove of art and culture located along the ancient Silk Road.

The virtual character, named Jia Yao, is the official virtual ambassador for Dunhuang Mogao Caves in Gansu Province, northwest China. The caves are home to 735 caves containing some of the finest examples of Buddhist art.

Jia Yao is part of Dunhuang Academy’s efforts to use digital technology to promote and preserve the site’s beautiful cultural relics. Besides Jia Yao, other uses of the technology include digitizing Buddhist murals, statues and texts found at the site, the academy said.

Moving to southwest China, another important cultural site, the Sanxingdui Ruins, has just announced that efforts are underway to digitize recent archaeological discoveries made at the site.

A digital archive of archaeological data collected from the ruins of Sanxingdui is being created to promote digital interpretation and the transformation of archaeological research at the site. “It can meet the public’s demand to experience archeology for themselves,” Ding Daoshi, a veteran independent internet industry analyst, told the Global Times.

In May, the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council issued guidelines on developing the country’s national cultural digitization strategy. The guidelines note that by 2035, a national cultural big data system will be established with the aim of comprehensively presenting Chinese culture and allowing all people in the country to access the results of digital cultural research.

1:1 accuracy

Among the many caves in the caves, a cave containing an important cache of documents was discovered in 1900. This so-called “library cave” is one of the most important parts of the digitization project carried out by the Academy of Dunhuang and the Chinese Internet. Giant Tencent.

Su Bomin, director of Dunhuang Academy, said more than 50,000 cultural relics have been discovered in the library cave and their influence has spread overseas. The digitization project aims to replicate the real history of the cave through laser scanning and photo reconstruction technology combined with procedural content generation and physical rendering technology.

These technologies can restore detail to ancient cave paintings and other cultural relics with 1:1 millimeter accuracy.

The first cultural relic that will soon enter the public eye in the virtual world is a first-class national cultural relic: an account book dating from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). This book provides an overview of Dunhuang’s economy, culture, calendar and folk customs at the time.

Sanxingdui Ruins has also launched a digital interactive space showcasing new archaeological finds such as a bronze altar found in Pit No. 5. Entering the digital space, visitors can immerse themselves in the ancient kingdom of Shu by exploring a digital museum and the excavation site.

While the actual cultural relics found in pit #5 were packed up and shipped to a cultural protection center, leaving the pit empty. However, in the digital interactive space, people can explore the pit before it is dug. For example, beautiful gold coins can be seen strewn around the pit.

Upcoming challenges

Efforts to digitize Chinese heritage have been ongoing for years.

Yu Tianxiu, director of the cultural relics digitization department at Dunhuang Academy, noted that the first efforts to digitize caves began in the early 1990s. use to archive the site.

The fruits of these digitization efforts have accrued over the years and the technology used has improved and is now used in more areas including publishing and art.

Other digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and motion capture brought the virtual figure Jia Yao to life. To make the girl more real, the developers even gave her 3D model a skeleton and facial muscles.

Of course, challenges remain. Ding pointed out that the large number of cultural relics is a problem, and a unified standard has yet to be established when digitizing them. Ding added that digital technology must continue to improve because current technology can easily recreate the outer appearance of an object, but it is difficult to record the detailed internal structure of objects.


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