Stretching over 20,000 kilometers, the Great Wall is a historic monument of unparalleled glory, but climbing it is hard work.
Not everyone has the stamina to navigate its high steps and steep slopes, while only a handful may have the expertise to physically participate in the restoration of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, a recently launched WeChat mini-program allows every history buff to be a hero in a virtual world, where one not only climbs the Great Wall, but also protects it.
The Great Wall e-tour, co-produced by China Cultural Heritage Conservation Foundation and internet giant Tencent, among others, went live on June 11 to mark the annual National Cultural Heritage Day. and natural.
Offering an almost simulated experience of climbing the wall and helping with preservation work, the program has created a buzz in recent weeks and garnered a large fan base.
Thanks to state-of-the-art digital technology, the virtual model is “detailed to the millimeter”.
About 50,000 high-definition images of the Xipanjiakou site in the Xifengkou section of the Great Wall, Qianxi County, Tangshan, Hebei Province, have been used to provide users with a remarkable experience.
Liu Yuzhu, head of the China Cultural Heritage Preservation Foundation, said an agreement with Tencent was reached in 2016 and the main concern was how to raise awareness about the historical monument.
“We have made documentaries and published animation books in the past. These are popular, but the Great Wall is a complicated structure and it deserves more attention,” Liu said.
“Therefore, we decided to innovate. We harnessed new technologies to help people get a clearer picture of the Wall.”
According to statistics made available by the National Administration of Cultural Heritage, the Great Wall stretches 21,196 kilometers and spans 15 provincial-level administrative regions.
A staggering 8,851 kilometer stretch of the structure was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
A plan to make “a wearable product for the popularization of science” surrounding the wall was mooted in 2020, which the foundation and the internet giant together turned into reality.
The arrangement involved the renovation of three Wall sites in Beijing and Hebei, including Xipanjiakou, which was also built during the Ming Dynasty.
About 50 million yuan ($7.5 million) of public funds, raised by the two parties, have been donated for the renovation.
New technology helped the project. For example, when drones and 3D modeling were introduced to spot cracks and estimate the number of bricks needed to repair the wall, they collected rich data that was used in public promotion projects such as the Great Wall E-tower.
“People can understand how construction consolidation and other renovation work is done at the Wall when they use the new miniprogram,” Liu said.
The expert adds: “Digital technology can give a great boost to the protection of cultural heritage.
“Most of the relics are hosted or managed by public institutions, but the advanced technologies are owned by large corporations,” Liu adds.
“Thus, collaboration is imperative between platforms like China Foundation for Cultural Heritage Preservation and tech companies.”
In China, the digitization of cultural heritage has been widely adopted and has led to successful cases of preserving history for posterity.
In 2018, a “digital patronage” charity program at the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province, went online, thanks to the computerization of the magnificent murals that adorn the World Heritage site.
The program has empowered the younger generation to promote the Mogao Caves through music, animation and online games, among others.
In 2020, a series of charitable programs involving other cave temples in China were also launched, combining public education with the restoration of relics through digitization.
Nevertheless, as Liu points out, there are bottlenecks that need to be eliminated. For example, the formats of digitized resources of cultural relics are not uniform.
In addition, lack of data security, redundancy and homogenization of relatively low quality products can hinder long-term development.
“But the horizon is bright,” Liu said. “These projects contain interdisciplinary research and allow cross-fertilization of expertise. They predict a promising future for the cultural industry.”
To make things more optimistic, the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, China’s cabinet, jointly issued a directive last month to improve the country’s digitalization strategy.
The goal is to showcase new experiences and cultural products through digitization.