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Tencent Blockchain Makes Over 6,500 Artworks from Dunhuang Caves Accessible to the Public for the First Time

In the remote north-western reaches of China, surrounded by desert, dunes and hills, lies one of the world’s great cultural discoveries. Collectively known as the Dunhuang Caves, UNESCO describes it as the “largest, most richly endowed, and the world’s longest-used treasure house of Buddhist art.”

Dating from the fourth until the 14th century, these caves and the artworks within chronicle the evolution of Buddhism and Buddhist art over 1,000 years. They provide invaluable insights into the history and development of ancient China, central Asia, and the legendary Silk Road.

Of the six well-known grottoes in Gansu Province , the Mogao Caves are the most famous. It comprises a network of more than 1,000 grottoes containing remarkable murals, paintings, sculptures, scrolls, manuscripts, and textiles.

An Interactive and Sustainable Approach to Cultural Heritage Protection

Since 2017, Tencent has collaborated with the Dunhuang Academy for the sustainable preservation of cultural heritage by digitizing the caves and artworks within. This allows people from around China and the world to virtually visit the sites and view the art in incredible detail while protecting it from the damaging effects of physical tourism.

The launch of a blockchain-based Digital Dunhuang Material Library and co-creation platform.

A Pioneering Open Co-creation Platform for Cultural Heritage Backed by Blockchain Technology

Digitalization has now gone one step further, with the launch of a blockchain-based Digital Dunhuang Material Library and co-creation platform. It’s the first of its kind in China, with the added security of IP protection using AI and blockchain technology.

High-definition digital assets on the platform.

About 6,500 high-definition digital assets including murals, manuscripts and scrolls from the six cave sites are now available for the first time to download from the open material library from anywhere and at any time.

What’s more, the co-creation model allows individual and enterprise creators to download the materials for their own creation. After the re-created content is uploaded to the open Material Library, it can be shared with others to access and download. The corresponding benefits can be obtained through the intelligent ledger system. The accuracy and integrity of the platform is protected through a rigorous evaluation process by the Dunhuang Academy before going live.

Secure Access for All with IP Protection

Anyone can access the platform, but it will be of particular benefit to:

  • Researchers, scholars and teachers for use in academic papers, talks, lectures and courses.
  • Museums and other cultural institutions seeking to promote, exhibit or update their collection and material on the Dunhuang caves.
  • Media organizations and content creators for use in films, documentaries or articles and books about the Dunhuang caves.
  • Businesses for use in commercial contexts such as advertising or campaigns.

Images and information can be downloaded following a standardized authorization process based on usage levels, along with nominal fee payment where applicable.

Just as importantly, the cultural information and materials from the library have the backing of professional scholars from the Dunhuang Academy.

Protecting intellectual property of the digital assets via blockchain technology is a core feature of the platform. Ownership and original proof of the material and information such as creation, authorization, payment and downloads are stored on the chain in real time and cannot be altered. In addition, every authorized use of the materials can be verified, and e-signature technology ensures the security of the agreement process.

Collaboration Brings the Magic of Dunhuang to the Public

Over five years of collaboration, Tencent has brought the magic of Dunhuang to local and global audiences in other innovative ways. Among them:

1. The Cloud Museum of Dunhuang Caves mini program

Digital impressions of Dunhuang’s murals, sculptures and caves were made available on the cloud via a Weixin mini-program. It allows people to virtually visit the site and learn the stories behind them from the convenience of their mobile devices.

More than 2 million visits were recorded on the first day of launch in the spring of 2020. The total number of views exceeded 50 million in the first year, setting a new benchmark for digital cultural preservation.

The Cloud Museum of Dunhuang Caves mini program.

2. Dunhuang x Honor of Kings game skin

Tencent’s blockbuster mobile game Honor of Kings offers special skins based on mural motifs found in Dunhuang. More than 40 million players have adopted the apsara skin to date, introducing Dunhuang to a young, new audience.

3. Dunhuang Animation Drama

Five short animation shows were produced for viewing on the Cloud Museum of Dunhuang Caves mini program. Each episode was based on stories depicted in murals in the Mogao grottoes. Users can participate in the animation dubbing, turning Dunhuang’s millennium murals to pop culture that can be enjoyed by more people.

Dunhuang Animation Drama.

4. Dunhuang Poetry Scarf

The Dunhuang Poetry Scarf project was a creative campaign that lets users of the Cloud Museum of Dunhuang Caves mini program design their own silk scarf. Users could mix and match from eight major themes and more than 200 mural details to create a unique silk scarf.

Users created more than 100,000 silk scarves in just two days, showing the value of cultural digitalization in the real world.

Users leveraged the Cloud Museum of Dunhuang Caves mini program to design silk scarves.

Exciting Times for Digitally-led Cultural Partnerships

Tencent’s partnership with Dunhuang Academy is ongoing, with more innovations to come. On the horizon are more interactive and immersive applications featuring enhanced graphics, virtual humans, digital twins, AI, AR, VR, mixed reality and other cutting-edge technologies.

The digital avatar “Jia Yao” is the first digital ambassador of Dunhuang Culture.

Combined with recent digitalization initiatives of invaluable sites such as Sanxingdui, Beijing’s Central Axis and the Forbidden City, it’s clear that technology has an important role to play in the preservation and protection of cultural heritage, as well as the dissemination of its value to the wider world. We are excited to be part of that future.

Visit the Dunhuang Material Library and Co-Creation System to watch and learn about the great cultural discoveries. The English site is coming soon! We look forward to hearing your feedback through