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Daughter of Dunhuang Fan Jinshi: the Protection of Dunhuang is Empowered by the Internet

Source: people.cn Date: 2016-04-06
This spring has witnessed a Dunghuang frenzy in Shanghai, brought by “Dunhuang: Song of Living Beings ”, an exhibition jointly hosted by the Shanghai Himalaya Museum and the Dunhuang Academy and supported by the Dunhuang Museum, In four months, 320,000 people have visited the exhibition, with over 1100 guided tours, more than 50 public events and 12 lectures. Some visitors were so enthralled by the exhibition that they would stay until it closed in the evening.
Though this is not the first time that Dunhuang art has come to Shanghai, the popularity of this exhibition has been unprecedented, holding the hearts of people in Shanghai.
At the closing ceremony of the exhibition, a lady with silver hair and a small figure was the center of attention, surrounded by a crowd who asked for a photo together and an autograph from her. She is Fan Jinshi, the 78-year-old Honorary President of the Dunhuang Academy, who has devoted her entire life to the Mogao Grottos.
Daughter of Dunhuang is a beautiful name people give to Fan, who is a daughter of Shanghai. She came back to Shanghai for this exhibition and gave an interview to people.cn.
 
Fan Jinshi
 
Dunhuang and Shanghai are both at the forefront of the times.
It has been 53 years since Fan Jinshi, a native of Shanghai, graduated from Peking University in 1963 and started working in the deserts. She became the third director of the Dunhuang Academy in 1998. Retired as she is, she finds it hard to leave Dunhuang, where she has spent almost her entire life.
“I love Shanghai as much as Dunhuang. Shanghai is where I was born and grew up, while Dunghuang is where I have worked for 53 years. Life was tough when I first got to Dunhuang. But things have become better. Everything has improved, from the protection of Dunhuang art, Dunhuang studies and the management of Dunhuang. Though I had a hard time adjusting to life there, the longer I stay, the more deeply I feel attached to it. I cannot leave it.”
On the similarities between Dunhuang and Shanghai, Fan Jinshi has this to say. “Many scholars see ancient Dunhuang as today’s Shanghai and Guangzhou. It was a gateway to China. It is nothing surprising that brilliant art should emerge there. Shanghai is the gateway to modern China and at the forefront of innovation. Along this tine, the two places have some commonalities. Shanghai cannot develop in isolation of ancient art. Contemporary artists must seek inspiration from our cultural roots.”

Dunhuang should be the root of modern art.
Dunhuang was a hub on the Silk Road, where Eastern and Western civilizations met and merge, creating splendid cultures that last through the centuries. This time, it brings to Shanghai, a port city in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative, not only brilliant arts, but also the idea of common prosperity and peaceful development.
Shanghai needs draw inspiration from Dunhuang as it opens up to the world. Dunhuang also needs such an international city as Shanghai to help present and promote its values. The exhibition “Dunhuang, Song of Living Being” provides not only cultural enjoyment, but also food for thought.
Fan believed that there are three reasons for the success of the exhibition. “First, the greatness of Dunhuang art. Dunhuang is the only place where classical Chinese art has been well preserved. Such classical art is the basis of Chinese civilization, which also bears the influence of foreign cultures. Dunhuang is unique as it preserves the art of Tang Dynasty and before, unlike many museums in China which feature arts of the Song Dynasty and later time. The art of Dunhuang is not a copy of foreign culture, but builds on innovation by ancient artists.”
Even the best art needs people who is able to appreciate it. “Mr. Dai Zhikang has discerning eyes for art. The Shanghai Himalaya Museum was intended for modern art. But he later found that modern art has to be rooted in ancient art. When I was still the director of the Dunhuang Academy, he asked me to do a Dunhuang art exhibition at his museum. I agreed, without any hesitation. He takes it very seriously and makes the exhibition a success.”
The success of an exhibition also requires professional guides. “We sent to Shanghai staff who are experts on explaining the cultures behind the exhibits, which all carry deep cultural significance and value.”

Digitalized protection of Dunhuang art: an ongoing effort.
“Like a human being who grows up through his youthful years and passes away, the frescos in the Mogao grottos will also fade away as time goes by. We are working to slow down the process and preserve them, though they will finally disappear.”
Tourism and protection have been all along irreconcilable. Fortunately, technological advances, in particular digital technologies, have brought new opportunities for protecting the treasure of Dunhuang.
“We have been working on the archives of Mogao Grottos for the past years, but we are not satisfied with the traditional method,” said Fan. “In the late 1980s when I first saw computers, it occurred to me ‘why don’t we make digital records which will not change and fade.’ Why let Dunhuang art slowly disappear? It is unique in China and the world. We must make it permanent. Photographs and videos can’t compare with digital technologies. When I learned of digital technology, I pushed for its application. And we are the first to use it in China. Nowadays people talk about Internet Plus, big data and cloud computing. We are indeed empowered by digital technologies. ”
“Digital technologies have enabled accurate and complete protection of cultural relics and made it possible for the art treasures to come out of the grottos. Digital Dunhuang will be recorded in history.” Fan told the journalist, “The technology has become more mature. We could make high fidelity records of the size of the grottos and the colors of the frescos. If well preserved, people could still enjoy it in 50 to 100 years.”
In addition to preserving the Mogao Grottos and make them “immortal”, Fan Jinshi and her colleagues are thinking how to ensure society can benefit from the Dunhuang art with the help of digital technologies. “The Dunhuang archives contain a huge amount of information. We need to do a lot to ensure they can help with our life, art creation and research. For instance, we can make fashion designs that include Dunhuang elements. We can make 3D models of the figures in the frescos. Let me tell you that we never stop in preserving our archives. We will make sure they can be applied in all aspects of our life, for our culture, our country and the entire humanity.”