Digital technologies herald new future for museums in China

Source: People's Daily

Digital technologies have been integrated with exhibitions, cultural heritage preservation and restoration, and archaeological excavations, resulting in new prospects for the future development of Chinese museums.

Advanced technologies have made online exhibitions the norm and given visitors from a variety of areas easier access to exhibitions, according to Zhu Yarong, deputy head of the Sanxingdui Museum in Guanghan city, southwest China's Sichuan province.

1. Staff workers collect image data of the Yungang Grottoes at the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute in Datong, north China's Shanxi province. (Photo/Zhan Yan) 2. Photo shows a digital exhibition of national treasures held in Jinan, east China's Shandong province. (File photo) 3. Anhui Museum launches an online exhibition of relics depicting women from the Ming and Qing dynasties in Huizhou (an administrative district in Chinese history and now part of Anhui). (File photo) Data from the National Cultural Heritage Administration of China.

Last year, the Hunan Museum in Changsha, central China's Hunan province, rolled out an online exhibition on the daily life of refined scholars from the Song dynasty (960-1279), depicting activities such as gathering with friends, enjoying blossoms, tasting tea, and playing the Chinese musical instrument guqin.

Adopting augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D image production technologies, the online exhibition provides a panoramic view of over 80 cultural relics from the Song dynasty.

In September 2020, a digital exhibition held at the Capital Museum in Beijing surprised viewers as no tangible exhibits were shown, but visitors were still able to interact with a virtual guqin and produce a traditional piece of music.

For museums, 5G is considered a vital opportunity for bringing about their digital transformation. The main buildings of the Capital Museum have completed deploying base stations and been fully covered by 5G networks, said Li Tao, an engineer in information resource management and publication with the museum.

In recent years, many museums have started to collect 3D data of cultural relics, which will facilitate their preservation and restoration. The Palace Museum in Beijing, for one, has established a digital library of high-definition (HD) images of more than 50,000 cultural relics.

The process basically involves technicians collecting data about cultural relics with 3D laser scanners or HD cameras, and then building 3D models of the items via data modeling. The process may not be complicated, but restoring their condition and appearance as truthfully as possible involves high requirements for data collection.

The Hunan Museum has collected 53 guqin, and employed computed tomography (CT) scanning, 3D reconstructing and printing technologies to restore them with the least possible intervention and most effective protection, said Wang Yifei, a staff member at the Hunan Museum who is also the manager of the museum's guqin conservation, restoration and research team.

In fact, technologies have been used in archaeological excavations before being applied in museums. China's latest digs at the Sanxingdui ruins in Guanghan have drawn attention for their adoption of technological advances.

"Each excavation pit was equipped with 24-hour shooting systems, and all the data collected by the systems will be stored for reference in future archaeological research," said Tang Fei, leader of the excavation team of the Sanxingdui ruins.

Traditionally, archaeologists would pick up bronze ware from the earth after wrapping it up with gypsum, which wasn't always helpful in protecting the relics. This time, the archaeological team made silica gel protective padding for the bronze ware after creating a 3D model of it, thus making the excavation more friendly for digging.

According to Tang, it was the first time that 3D printing had been applied in excavations.

Hyperspectral data collection and analysis technology was also used for the first time to identify the material composition on the surface of the cultural relics.

May 18 marks the 45th International Museum Day. Themed "The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine", it called on museums around the globe to pursue further digitalization and explore new cultural experiences and modes of communication for visitors.