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Chinese culture transcends boundaries with digital tech

YE XIUDUAN | 2020-05-19 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
A staff member introduces a digital Palace Museum exhibit to tourists at the Palace Museum in Beijing. The Palace Museum launched several digital exhibits to transform cultural heritage into digital resources. Photo: XINHUA


On multiple occasions, Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized the importance of delving into and drawing inspiration from China’s fine traditional culture, calling upon efforts to push creative transformation and innovative development. In the new era, scientific and technological innovation has empowered cultural communication, breaking boundaries and enabling cultural products to attract new attention around the world. Therefore, we should take advantage of the concept of “digital + culture” to tell Chinese stories well, enhance the communication power of Chinese culture and expand its clout in today’s world.
Media as carrier
Chinese culture has endured for thousands of years. In the new era, traditional culture and contemporary culture have blended and collided, realizing creative transformation and innovative development. 
Spatially, Chinese culture covers a range of rich and diverse regional cultures, which stretch across the mountains, rivers, lakes and seas of the nation and run through Chinese society at home and abroad. In the process of Chinese and global cultural exchange, a common identity and spiritual bond has formed between Chinese people at home and abroad. 
In the wave of globalization, Chinese culture should rely on digital media to achieve global communication, build a virtual cultural community, and let all Chinese at home and abroad share the content and significance of Chinese culture across time and space, so as to enhance Chinese cultural identity.
New communication advancements change society by giving birth to new forms of culture. Harold Innis, a Canadian communication theorist, believed that each communication medium has either a time bias or a space bias. A medium with a time bias, such as clay or printed text, is considered heavy and inefficient, but with a long lifespan. In contrast, a medium with a space bias, such as radio and social media, is more efficient and seeks to overcome space, but it has a relatively short lifespan. However, with the basic information units of bits, digital media technologies have breached that great divide allowing for both time and space bias.
The internet has become a common habitat for users all over the world, and social media is now an intermediary for individuals and organizations to build relationship networks. Information and influence are transmitted deeper and wider under the combined action of strong and weak relationships in social networks. 
Communication based on digital media involves all users and shows a socialized tendency. Cultural work practitioners should take the opportunity to integrate Chinese culture into social platforms, and at the same time adopt intelligent algorithms to achieve personalized and accurate messaging services, so as to spread Chinese culture to all parts of the world.
Nowadays, short-video platforms have crossed the threshold of professional content production, gathering a large number of users to capture and present their own daily lives, an embodiment of the visual and imaging features of communication. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality extend the human senses using multi-modal symbols featuring vision, hearing and touch, constructing cognitive experiences for audiences. 
In this light, cultural work practitioners should take advantage of digital technology and its symbolic system to present Chinese culture in a three-dimensional manner, innovate with the expression of Chinese stories and promote the Chinese cultural community, so that Chinese at home and abroad can interact with each other in the digital, wired and intelligent cultural arena. In a sense, digital media makes it possible to create a virtual cultural community.
For example, in 2019, the Palace Museum unveiled a number of upgraded and newly developed digital exhibits to promote the rich history and culture it represents, such as “Digital Cultural Relic Storage,” which already contains detailed information and a large number of high-resolution images on 1.86 million cultural relics from the museum’s collection; the “Panoramic Palace Museum,” which enables users to tour all the areas open to the public in the Forbidden City; and also a digital gallery featuring the museum’s artwork collection, a mobile tourist guide app and a WeChat mini-app that tells the stories behind the buildings in the Forbidden City. The collaboration of digital creativity and traditional culture provides an immersive experience for tourists.
In the meantime, the Palace Museum has cooperated with tech giant Tencent to promote the “Digital Palace Museum” through the digital collection, storage and display of cultural relics using “digitization + cloud + AI,” thus innovating with the digital communication of Chinese culture.
Sharing is key
In a ritual sense, communication is the temporal manifestation of people’s belief in society. Cultural communication is indeed a ceremony shared by social groups or people with a common identity, and it plays a role in binding the society as a whole. In the digital network, the spread and sharing of Chinese culture is no longer limited to a specific physical space and time. It transcends these limits in three ways.
First, modern technology is able to create mixed reality, a blend of virtual and real worlds, to reproduce historical figures and events. Audiences can travel through history, interact with historical figures, and experience historical narratives from a first-person perspective. 
Second, the development of mobile internet technologies such as 5G embeds communication deeply in daily life, making it ubiquitous and unrestricted by time. Network users all over the world can share content simultaneously and experience events and ceremonies together. People in different settings can communicate with each other about Chinese cultural items instantaneously, forming common cultural experiences and memories. 
Finally, in terms of space, with the help of the internet and digital media, regional Chinese culture can transcend geographical restrictions and spread throughout the country and even around the world, connecting groups with the same cultural origin.
As a result, to serve the Chinese culture “going global” strategy, we should translate Chinese cultural creativity into cultural achievements shared by all Chinese across the globe through digital media, so as to tell Chinese stories with Chinese cultural symbols, deliver Chinese voices well, and let all Chinese savor the essence of Chinese culture. 
To this end, we must first share content, which encompasses but is not limited to traditional Chinese culture, contemporary culture and regional Chinese culture, as well as institutional and spiritual culture in different cultural settings. 
Then we must share Chinese values, including “the harmony of man and nature,” “the world belongs to all,” “the world as a commonwealth,” “harmony but not uniformity,” “great virtue is like water,” “have ample virtue and carry all things,” “striving continuously to strengthen oneself” and so on, conveying rich Chinese culture and ways of thinking.
Significance of digital communication
In the Power of Identity, Manuel Castells, a Spanish sociologist, proposed that “identity is people’s source of meaning and experience. Identities organize the meaning while roles organize the functions, which involves the process of self-construction and individualization, and what is established is meaning.” As we know, everyone’s sense of self-identity is constructed. Therefore, the goal of digital communication of Chinese culture is to construct cultural identity. 
Benedict Anderson, an Irish political scientist, depicted a nation as an imagined community, given birth to by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. He also proposed that the media could create imagined communities, usually through targeting a mass audience or generalizing and addressing audiences as part of a certain public.
That said, cultural identity and a sense of belonging are key elements of a cultural community. We should use digital technology to promote the communication, inheritance and innovation of Chinese culture in Chinese society at home and abroad, enhance the cultural identity of youth groups, and then spread that identity to other age groups. 
Regional Chinese culture is a cultural heritage inherited by specific regions and ethnic groups, and it is crucial how these groups form a cultural identity. For example, as a branch of Chinese culture, the culture of Minnan, southern Fujian Province, has a strong regional color, including diverse cultural forms such as Nanyin music, Liyuan opera and Gezai opera, which have spiritual significance. 
The digital communication of Minnan culture can cross the Taiwan Straits and engage both coasts, promoting mutual understanding and trust among the youth of the two sides, which could be key to cross-Straits cultural integration and development.
In summary, as media technology rapidly evolves, we should balance instrumental and value rationality, integrate Chinese culture in depth with digital technology, help Chinese culture transcend borders and social strata, enhance the recognition and acceptance of traditional Chinese culture, contemporary culture, regional culture and signature culture among all Chinese people including overseas compatriots, especially youths, through which we can construct a community with a shared future in cyberspace.
Ye Xiuduan is from the School of Journalism and Communication at Huaqiao University.
edited by YANG XUE