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China Focus: Museums at a click

XI'AN, May 17 (Xinhua) -- Visiting a museum does no longer entails wandering around a brick-and-mortar building, looking at depressing antiques and boring introduction boards in today's China. Now, downloading a mobile app or scanning a barcode can be equally educational and entertaining.

In the run up to this year's International Museum Day (IMD), which falls on May 18, museums across China have been putting a lot of effort into developing mobile applications and brainstorming creative ways to present their artifacts.

The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City ,in Beijing has released a new app in April that enables smartphone users to better interact with treasured ceramics. The developers imaged 400 items from the 350,000 ceramics stored at the museum. By downloading the app, visitors can get a 360-degree view of the chosen items and a voice guide explaining details.

It's not the first time the world's most visited museum has dabbled with the irresistible "smart" trend.

In January, the museum launched an interactive app on an ancient Chinese painting. By allowing viewers to explore the settings and different facial expressions of more than 40 figures in the painting, the app offers a glimpse of the lifestyle of the ruling class in ancient China.

The Shaanxi History Museum in the northwestern city of Xi'an has been a pioneer in using a digital platform for exhibiting antiques. So far, 208 public and private museums and memorials in Shaanxi Province have opened online exhibition halls.

In the past three years, more than 500,000 visitors from 100 countries have gained access to the rich cultural heritage and history of China through the digital museum, said Shao Xiaolong, director of the provincial cultural relics data center.

"Beside virtual scenes and 3D interactive displays, digital museums are also expanding their territory to mobile apps and social platforms such as Weibo and WeChat," said Zhang Qing, president of Time Machine Image Center, a Beijing-based digital image company.

Panoramic camera shooting, virtual reality and augmented reality are trendy technologies in today' s digital museum construction, Zhang said.

For Li Yuan, a former film animator who began running an independent online museum in 2010, exhibiting items on the Internet is just "the tip of an iceberg" that a digital museum can achieve. He expects a display revolution.

"Big data is the core of a digital museum," Li said. "Through data analysis of hundreds of thousands of digitalized antiques including books, murals, stone tablets and specifics of various items, teaching, researching and many more functions can be realized in an efficient manner that is unprecedented."

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) established the IMD in 1977 to raise public awareness of the museum's role in the development of society. This year's theme for the event is Museums for a sustainable society.

"Museums, as educators and cultural mediators, are adopting an increasingly vital role in contributing to the definition and implementation of sustainable development and practices," ICOM President, Prof. Dr Hans-Martin Hinz said.

On May 18, 2014, more than 35,000 museums in some 145 countries organized activities to mark the day.

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