NFTs Recreate Classic Scene As Global Search For Looted Relics Continues

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People look at a digital recreation of a fountain in the Old Summer Palace with 12 bronze Chinese zodiac statues at an exhibition held in Beijing in July 2020. Photo: VCG

A Chinese zodiac bronze horse head, looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace in 1860, has returned in 2020. Photo: VCG People look at a digital recreation of a fountain in the Old Summer Palace with 12 bronze Chinese zodiac statues during a Beijing in July 2020. Photo: VCG

A Chinese zodiac bronze horse head, which was looted from Beijing’s Old Summer Palace in 1860, has returned in 2020. Photo: VCG

Editor’s note:

Carriers of a nation’s genes and spirit, cultural relics and heritages are irreplaceable resources for a flourishing civilization. A large number of Chinese relics have become more popular over the past 10 years and have made people around the world know more about Chinese culture. The Global Times will feature a number of these “star” artifacts in this series, to bring these cultural relics to life.

As President Xi Jinping said, Chinese civilization, together with the colorful civilizations of other countries, should provide mankind with proper spiritual guidance and strong spiritual impetus.

Today we learn about the 12 bronze Chinese zodiac statues in Yuanmingyuan (the Old Summer Palace) that were looted and lost overseas 162 years ago. In the years that followed, many of these leaders returned home through the efforts of individuals and government officials. Now, in the age of the Internet, Chinese artists have stepped up to bring together a comprehensive collection of these treasures in the virtual world.

After being plundered by invaders and scattered around the world for more than a century and a half, 12 bronze Chinese zodiac animal heads have been reunited in the virtual world through the efforts of Chinese artists.

While seven of these heads, including the horse and the ox, have been returned to the motherland, the locations of the other five – dragon, serpent, goat, rooster and dog – are still unknown.

However, pushing the boundaries of reality, Chinese digital artists have turned to digital technology to give these heads a family reunion.

Sold as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), these digital works of art have been online hits, selling out almost as soon as they debuted online.

“Digitizing cultural relics such as bronze zodiac heads and integrating traditional culture into the metaverse can promote the preservation of these national treasures and increase their popularity with the public,” said Ding Daoshi, an independent analyst. Internet industry veteran, to the Global Times. .

Non-fungible tradition

In March 2022, Chinese-grenadier blockchain entrepreneur Sun Yuchen spent nearly 10 million yuan ($1.45 million) at a Metapoly XM auction to acquire an NFT collection of the 12 zodiac heads. Chinese, the only set in world circulation.

Bringing cultural relics together in the digital world has sparked excitement among Chinese netizens as Sun said he plans to give the public access to the digital image, which can be moved around to appreciate the heads from different angles .

A few days later, an NFT photo of the bronze goat’s head went under the hammer at the Shuzi Baozang (lit: Digital Treasure) online auction, ultimately selling for more than 8,000 yuan.

Some other Chinese artists, including Huang Jiamin and Ji Chu, have also created their own digital images that combine the bronze zodiac heads with elements of modern art.

Focus on creativity

More and more Chinese artists are interested in ways to bring cultural relics such as bronze Chinese zodiac heads and the public closer together through digital technology.

“I think such digital creativity involving the 12 heads of the Chinese zodiac can intrigue more people and make them want to understand the story behind these relics. Such relics are like a national calling card,” said Huo Zhengxin. , an art repatriation expert and law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.

“Unlike digital solutions for relic preservation, the new metaverse Chinese zodiac heads focus on ‘creativity’ and provide people with a window to appreciate relics,” said Zhu Yizhong, a digital artist in Wuhan, on Wednesday. in Hubei province, to the Global Times.

Zhu explained that aesthetically, the new digital creations should respect the appearance of the original works while using their imagination to personalize the new creations.

“If I were to create a collection of digital art inspired by Chinese zodiac heads, I would add some Qing Dynasty [1644-1911] ornaments to show their historical origins. Also, the fact that they were lost overseas is another good starting point for the creators to interpret other design elements,” Zhu noted.

Zhu also pointed out that digital art inspired by relics can be a catalyst for younger generations to embrace traditional culture as it fits the concept of “Chinese trends.”

“Personally, 80% of the people who like my digital works were born in the 1990s. Digital cultural consumption and also the digitization of cultural industries are embraced by many young Chinese people who are even beginning to consider Chinese popular culture as a new fashion. It can make more people believe and promote ‘Chinese trends’,” Zhu said.

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