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Virtual museum tours enrich lives in epidemic

Updated: May 19, 2022 Xinhua Print
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BEIJING -- Ding Ling, a Beijing resident, had an immersive virtual tour of the Palace Museum while under home quarantine.

"It was like I was living in the palace," said the 36-year-old.

What impressed Ding most of all was that high-resolution images of the museum's collection of over 1.86 million cultural relics are now available online. She can even observe the expression of a hawker on the 12-meter-long and 0.5-meter-high masterpiece "A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains" completed in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).

Virtual museum tours are steadily becoming more and more common across the globe. Powered by virtual reality, augmented reality and other cutting-edge technologies, users are able to gain access to places they might never have been able to visit in real life.

According to a report released by the International Council of Museums in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many museums to temporarily close or cap visitor numbers, digital tours have become an important way for people to interact with cultural treasures.

To Huang Yi, a museum photographer, the interactive database available round the clock has made his work more convenient. "Now I've got much more information to refer to. Even if I miss something on the spot, there's still a chance to make up for it after I come back home," Huang said.

Huang also began cooperating with some museums by producing videos guiding netizens on virtual visits. "Learning about the past and present of the cultural relics is fun, and it especially enriches people's spiritual lives amid the epidemic," said Huang.

China has proposed to promote the free opening and digitalization of public cultural venues and develop online digital experience products and new cultural tourism services such as immersive tours, virtual exhibitions and high-definition live broadcasts during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25). Experts believe this will trigger tremendous development opportunities for the digitalization of museums and the cultural industry.

Liu Mingxing, vice curator of the Museum of Chinese Gardens and Landscape Architecture, said many docents have been sharing videos online introducing scientific knowledge related to gardening since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Liu added that the museum welcomed nearly 20 million online viewers in 2021.

"The digital museums have overcome various limitations of traditional physical museums. They also provide audiences with a full perspective and immersive tour experience," said Wan Lin, curator of the Panlong City Ruins Museum in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province.

Digital technology has also helped revive the past glory of ancient treasures. In an exhibition hall of the Tianlongshan Grottoes Museum, a Buddha head statue was put in front of a 3D-printed cave where it originally rested.

"The Buddha head had suffered serious erosion and could not be put back. Technology has helped us to present its original appearance to visitors," said Yu Hao, former curator of the museum.

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