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Preserving China’s Cultural Heritage: The Role of Digitalization

ChinaPreserving China's Cultural Heritage: The Role of Digitalization

China has made significant strides in protecting and preserving its cultural heritage using advanced technology. The Dunhuang Academy’s ‘digital Dunhuang project’ is one of the most remarkable examples of how technology is being utilized to safeguard a 1,600-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Gobi Desert of China’s Gansu Province.

The Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes are an extensive collection of Buddhist artworks carved into the cliffs that have been vulnerable to damage caused by both natural and human factors. To preserve them, the Dunhuang Academy began its digitization project in the 1990s to create digital versions of the Mogao Grottoes and other grotto temples.

The project has amassed an immense database of digital cultural resources, allowing for murals, grottoes, painted sculptures, and other remarkable cultural heritage items to be reproduced and shared worldwide. The digital technology deployed enables virtual tours of 30 Dunhuang caves and the provision of high-resolution digital resources.

The Chinese language version of the online resource database Digital Dunhuang went live on May 1, 2016. It was followed by the English version in September 2017, which has since been accessed by users in 78 countries, including the United States, Japan, Canada, and Australia. The digital database has received more than 15.6 million views globally, according to a report by People’s Daily.

The Digital Dunhuang project is not the only technological initiative China has implemented to preserve its cultural heritage. China is also deploying other high-tech strategies such as 3D printing and virtual reality to promote and conserve its cultural heritage.

For example, in 2018, Chinese scientists employed 3D printing technology to recreate ancient artifacts that were previously beyond restoration. The project aimed to save valuable cultural heritage items and preserve ancient techniques for future generations.

Additionally, China is utilizing virtual reality technology to provide immersive experiences that allow individuals to explore cultural sites without physically being there. The Palace Museum in Beijing, for instance, provides an immersive 360-degree virtual reality tour of the Forbidden City, allowing users to explore the site from the comfort of their homes.

Furthermore, China is using facial recognition technology to safeguard cultural heritage items in museums. The Palace Museum has implemented facial recognition technology to enhance security and protect cultural heritage items from theft or damage. The technology allows authorities to track the movement of visitors and ensure that people do not get too close to valuable exhibits.

China has invested heavily in protecting its cultural heritage with the aid of various high technologies. One of these technologies is the use of blockchain-supported digital platforms. In December 2022, China launched its first blockchain-supported digital platform for cultural heritage. The platform provides high-definition digital renderings of 6,500 pieces of cultural heritage materials to people worldwide. This digital platform allows people to access Chinese cultural heritage artifacts and materials that would be otherwise inaccessible. It provides a glimpse into the history of China, and also allows for a deeper appreciation of the country’s cultural heritage.

The Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Dunhuang City, northwest China, has been the focus of researchers for decades. Efforts to protect the grottoes from damage caused by natural or human factors have been ongoing. In the 1990s, the Dunhuang Academy initiated its digitization project to create digital versions of the Mogao Grottoes and other grotto temples. With the help of digital technology, murals, grottoes, painted sculptures and other splendid cultural heritage items have been reproduced and are now able to be shared with the world.

The Chinese language version of the online resource database Digital Dunhuang was launched on May 1, 2016. It provides high-resolution digital resources and virtual tours of 30 Dunhuang caves. The English version of the database became available in September 2017, and by July 2022, it had been accessed by users in 78 countries, including the United States, Japan, Canada, and Australia. The digital database has received more than 15.6 million views worldwide.

China’s first multi-field coupling lab on murals and ancient ruins protection was put into use by the end of 2020. This lab, which is located in the city of Dunhuang, covers an area of 16,000 square meters. The lab can simultaneously simulate various conditions that murals and ancient ruins are exposed to in order to collect direct data for future research. The lab consists of three cabins that enable weather simulations throughout the year, such as windy, snowy and rainy days. It can also simulate temperatures ranging from minus 30 to 60 degrees Celsius and relative humidity ranging from 10 to 90 percent.

The lab’s controlled environment enables researchers to carry out experiments and study the impact of various conditions on the murals and ancient ruins. This information is critical in developing strategies for the preservation and restoration of these ancient cultural heritage sites.

The multi-field coupling lab has launched international collaborative research, and an international synchronous field trial is being carried out in cooperation with experimental bases at the University of Oxford and China’s Northwest University. This collaboration has provided researchers with access to state-of-the-art equipment and the latest technologies, enabling them to carry out research at the cutting edge of cultural heritage preservation.

The protection and revival of Dunhuang’s ancient culture is not an isolated case in China. In Xi’an City, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, the ancient city wall has more than 1,400 years of history. By applying the Internet of Things, big data, and cloud computing, significant efforts have been made to protect the cultural relic.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism in China reports that 3,090 monitoring points have been set up on the city wall to monitor its condition in real-time in case of deformation. Further monitoring, such as passenger flow and moat water level, has also been achieved. Staff members at the Cultural Protection and Tourism Department of the Xi’an City Wall Administrative Committee have said that they use both dynamic and static load monitoring to calculate the maximum bearing capacity that the wall can bear. They also monitor passenger flow to minimize the impact of tourism activities on cultural relics.

In conclusion, China’s efforts to preserve its cultural heritage using advanced technology such as digitalization, 3D printing, virtual reality, and facial recognition technology are commendable. These efforts have allowed the world to explore and appreciate China’s rich cultural heritage, while also safeguarding it for future generations.

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