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Follow That Bird: How Digitalizing Culture Helps Protect the Heritage of Central Beijing

Look up in the sky, at the graceful birds circling around Beijing’s most famous landmarks. They are Beijing swifts, an iconic migratory bird that has made them its nesting ground for centuries. 

These birds know that the best perspective of the city – a masterpiece of imperial design and urban development that dates back 800 years to the Yuan Dynasty – is from above. Only from the sky can you fully appreciate the Chinese capital’s scale and unique symmetry, which symbolize order and aesthetic.

The historic center of Beijing forms a line, known as the central axis, which runs for 7.8 kilometres from the Yongding Gate in the city’s south to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower in the northern part of the city. The layout is considered so special that it has been put forward for UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2012.

Tencent Harnesses Technology to Support Beijing’s Cultural Heritage 

Tencent is working with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage to launch the “Digital Axis” project, which aims to help people understand that the city’s spatial order is of outstanding value not just in China, but universally. 

The project integrates technologies across our business groups. It uses big data, cloud computing, game technology, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and knowledge maps in a new digital cultural model that add social value and benefit society. For example, we launched a dedicated Mini Programs channel to offer users an immersive, virtual “tour” over the city’s central axis, and created the first digital avatar of Beijing’s central axis, Beijing Swift, to apply for the World Heritage Sites. The comprehensive digital exhibition system of Beijing Central Axis is one of the project highlights, which consists of exhibitions enabled by immersive digital technology and an online digital museum.

Take a Digital Bird’s Eye Tour of Beijing’s Heritage Central Axis

The Digital Axis Mini Program offers an interactive experience that lets you enjoy a bird’s eye view of the central axis wherever you are in the world. To do so, we have enlisted the help of those wonderful Beijing swifts.

People can click images in the Mini Program to learn the cultural sites and history along the central axis.

To get started, you can click the Digital Axis Mini Program and follow the colourful digital swift created by Tencent. It flies above the line of the central axis, taking in architectural and historic landmarks such as the Temple of Heaven, Temple of Agriculture, Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, Jingshan Hill, and Nanluoguxiang, all attractions in their own right. 

Information on 19 major sites is included and can be accessed by clicking on the image. Along the way, you can add your support for the heritage application while learning about different sites. You can even change perspective and go lower or higher, just like a bird, or rotate your phone to line up with the central axis.

People can change perspective in the virtual tour.

An Immersive Experience to Make You Feel Like You’re Really There

To encourage people to get involved, we will use our game-engine, simulation, and cloud technologies, combined with high-definition digital scans for an immersive experience. 

The hybrid exhibition can help showcase Beijing Central Axis and tell a better story of this cultural heritage.

If you are in Beijing, the experience can be enhanced with AI, VR, and naked-eye 3D technology to create interactive exhibitions that integrate the history of the ancient capital and modern landscape.

Expanding Access to Cultural Intellectual Property

Using blockchain technology, we have also created commemorative digital collections, which feature different landmarks on the central axis. This is only the start, as we plan to expand cultural content and communication capabilities, and use music, film, television, and games to create more products related to the central axis.

The 9,999 digital collections designed by a local artist were gone within an hour. 

Building a Sustainable Development Index

We are compiling the sustainable development index of the Beijing Central Axis Heritage, which includes key data indicators, trends, and case studies on why the central axis is a model in the protection and inheritance of cultural heritage. This makes it easier for researchers, including UNESCO’s experts to better understand and evaluate the application for world heritage listing.

Conserving Wildlife in the Process

We are also supporting wildlife conservation efforts by using the Beijing swift as our mascot. Their numbers have declined from an estimated peak of over 50,000 to 3,000 in 2006. The birds nest in tall buildings, and the eaves of the ancient imperial city of Beijing and the imperial gardens provide them with the best shelter. The protection of heritage buildings will aid their recovery.

So get involved, and join us on our digital culture journey, focusing on the protection, inheritance and innovative development of Beijing’s central axis.