Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wang Xudong: Digital Caves of Dunhuang

GUEST POST AUTHOR: LIU BO

Liu Bo is Manager of IDP China at the National Library of China, and currently a visiting fellow at Harvard-Yenching Library at Harvard University cataloguing their collection of Chinese local histories.

Dr. Xudong Wang, Associate Director of Dunhuang Academy, delivered a lecture at Sackler Museum, Harvard University on Friday, 11 April 2014. The topic was Digital Caves of Dunhuang: Present and Future, which is just what I am interested in. Dr. Wang introduced the Digital Caves of Dunhuang Project, showed us how they digitize the murals, statues and caves.

It is difficult to digitize murals, because the surface of the wall is not a smooth one, and statues and caves are much more difficult. Their work is very different from IDP. IDP mainly digitizes manuscripts, which are flat or can be flattened with a glass plate if they are not. So Dunhuang Academy uses specially-made equipment to work, and spends more time to manipulate and join the images. Now they can take photographs of twenty caves a year, but can only manipulate four or five of them. As we know, there are 735 caves at Mogao near Dunhuang, and more than 400 of them with murals! It is really a large job. They also face some challenges, such as the metadata schema which is still being studied. Actually, people cannot manage images well without metadata.

Dunhuang Academy will build a large database to show murals and statues in the Mogao Caves. Dr. Wang showed some images and digital caves, all the pictures were wonderful, all details were displayed very, very clearly. I have visited the Mogao Caves two times in the last five years, but I am still astonished by the quality of digital caves, it was a different and nice experience. I thought we could get more information from the digital images than watching murals in the caves with the help of a torch. Fortunately, some scholars have already benefited from digital caves, as Dr. Wang explained.

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