Feature: Animating ancient Chinese idioms

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-18 19:52:50|Editor: Li Xia
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TAIPEI, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) -- "The people from the Kingdom of Zhao were music savvy. They walked like this, very elegantly," said Chou Kung-Shin, as she demonstrated how people living more than 2,000 years ago, during the Warring States period, walked.

"That's why a boy from the neighboring Kingdom of Yan tried to imitate the way they walked," Chou said, explaining the Chinese idiom, Han Dan Xue Bu (meaning to copy the way they walk in Handan). It is used to describe someone that slavishly imitates others, losing their own originality.

Chou, former director at Taiwan's Palace Museum, is leading a team of young people to find a new way for learning Chinese culture: studying ancient idioms with the help of new media.

Chou has 31 years experience working with museums and a Ph.D in art history and archaeology. "In museums, we learn about single objects. What about the stories behind those objects?"

The online version of the "Illustrated Stories of Chinese Culture" series was launched on WeChat in early November. Chou, chief-editor of the series, believes Chinese idioms are a carrier of Chinese history and culture.

"We hope to restore every aspect of the ancient life and present the Chinese culture in a complete and systematic way," she said.

Chinese idioms, or chengyu, are idiomatic expressions that usually consist of four characters. Many of them can be traced back to stories recorded in ancient classics, and are still alive in spoken language and writing, such as Han Dan Xue Bu.

Over the past four years, Chou and her team compiled the first volume of 10 chengyu stories about the Kingdom of Zhao, an ancient warring state, and a second volume about ancient Qin, which is best known for its Terracotta Warriors. According to the scholar, the books, or "the museums on paper" as she calls them, are just a first step.

"In the process of making the books, we trained our talent, and accumulated content," she said. "Then we move on to the online platform, which contains a mixture of animation, games, and interactive learning."

"The online world has no boundaries. It is a platform for people from the mainland, Taiwan, and everywhere in the world to learn Chinese culture," she said.

According to Chou, over a quarter of the world's population is now speaking Chinese. In her plan, the company will set up offline learning centers in the future, where people can immerse themselves in cultural stories with the help of VR technologies. Additionally they will also design everyday products that bring learning closer to people's daily life.

"Learning culture is different from other learning. It requires long-time commitment and gradual accumulation over time in order to internalize a culture into your thinking and actions," Chou explained.

Victor Chen, CEO of Showpicture Culture Creativity Inc. that produces the series, said the project required meticulous work.

"The characters in the animated stories are inspired by lacquer paintings," Chen said. "Sometimes the team held several meetings just to make sure one detail of the character's clothing was historically correct."

Centered around each story, knowledge about history, key battles and personalities from the time, as well as art and culture are all presented. "One story is enough for the reader to dive in and learn for two or three hours," Chen said.

The learning materials are not confined to texts and pictures. For example, in one of the stories, readers will learn about jade and its cultural significance in China by completing mini puzzle games about different jade ornaments.

Chou Kung-Shin said the team worked closely with museums from the mainland, which house many archaeological artifacts the team need for research.

They also published the first volume of the books under a publishing house in Shanghai, and won an award for the best children's books in the city.

"We want to borrow old wisdom to enlighten the future," Chou said, quoting a chengyu. "We hope people will learn the richness of Chinese culture and get wisdom and creativity from it."