New media inspires excellent cultural works

Author:ZHANG YOUPING Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2022-11-09

In his report to the 20th CPC National Congress, general secretary Xi Jinping said, “China’s fine traditional culture is extensive and profound; it is the crystallization of the wisdom of Chinese civilization.” The fundamental principle and mission of the times for literary and artistic practitioners is to take the initiative to inherit and carry forward China’s fine traditional culture through creative transformation and innovative development in various forms.

In recent years, we have seen frequent emergence of literary and artistic works that feature the innovative and high-quality incorporation of traditional cultural elements, leading a trend known as “guofeng” or “guochao,” meaning a “Chinese fashion trend.” It contains a search for inspiration in cultural roots and high cultural self-confidence. For example, TV programs such as “Everlasting Classics” and classical dances such as “Palace Banquet in the Tang Dynasty” and “Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting” came into the public eye, eventually rising to have “guaranteed viewership” and starting to “make itself known outside of a fixed audience circle.”

Vast numbers of viewers enthusiastically commented, liked, and forwarded these works on Weibo, WeChat, and other social media, spreading traditional culture across China and beyond. The popularity of these programs also promoted the development of other traditional cultural programs. For example, Shandong TV launched TV programs such as “Qilu Culture Conference (Qilu Wenhua Dahui),” “Chinese Rites and Chinese Music (Zhongguo Li and Zhongguo Yue),” and “Drama Universe (Xi Yuzhou).” These creative attempts, with different content and forms, explore the aesthetics and artistic presentation of the long-established Chinese civilization.

To say the least, these efforts demonstrate the coexistence of traditional culture, contemporary aesthetics, and modern science and technology, as they also project the epitome of China’s economic rise, social development, and the Chinese people’s growing cultural confidence in the new era. In essence, it shows the inner strength of Chinese literary creations as they promote the inheritance and innovation of excellent traditional cultural elements.

Transformation of traditional culture

As society gains an in-depth understanding of traditional Chinese culture, Chinese fashion trends are not only seen on TV or on the internet, they are also embedded in ballets, musicals, festival galas, architectural designs, product packaging, and in the most recent Beijing Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, as well as its emblem, costume design, and many other aspects.

The classical Chinese dance “Paper Fan Scholar (Zhishan Shusheng)” is a creative transformation of the Sichuan Opera “folding fan” technique. The masculinity of energetic youth and the fine temperament of intellectuals are vividly portrayed, shattering people’s stereotyped impressions of rigid and dull ancient scholars.

“China in the Classics,” a TV show based on Chinese classics produced by China Central Television, examines the stirring stories of ancient Chinese classics by selecting the most outstanding of these traditional, cultural masterpieces and examining their creation processes and core ideologies in a form that combines cultural seminars, drama, and visualization. It brings the ancient classics “to life,” demonstrating Chinese wisdom, ethos, and values implied in the ancient classics, such as the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian and Exploitation of the Work of Nature, Chinese Agriculture, and Technology in the XVII Century by Song Yingxing.

In the first episode, the host of the show, Sa Beining, meets ancient Confucian scholar Fu Sheng, who interprets the Book of Documents. The episode ends with the host bringing Fu to modern society, where the scholar is happy to discover children reciting the same lessons he learned in his childhood. Through the dramatic structure, filming, and solemn televised expression, the show succeeded in encouraging people’s national spirit and cultural ethos.

Hailed as China’s first TV program about rites and music, “Chinese Rites and Chinese Music” was aired in Shandong Province, or the land of Qilu, where rites are highly upheld. In the pre-Qin period (prior to 221 BCE), what is now known as Shandong Province belonged to Qi and Lu states, thus earning its name the Qilu land. The program uses a “culture+drama” mode, telling stories about the process of practicing rites in the past and present, and ushering the audience into a quest for the thousand-year-long Chinese civilization of rites and music.

“Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting” is adapted from “A Panorama of Mountains and Rivers,” by Wang Ximeng, a genius painter from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The mountains and rivers are evoked by dancers in green dresses with high hair buns. The poetic drama creatively demonstrates the aesthetics of the common people through scroll unfolding, silk singing, stone searching, penmanship practice, ink milling, and drawing. The audience follows the perspective of the scroll opener, to roam through the world with legendary traditional Chinese aesthetic charm.

Regardless of time and location, excellent traditional culture is the spiritual home of all Chinese descendants. With the rapid development of social media, it is the critical responsibility of media outlets to clarify where Chinese civilization comes from and where it is going. Going forward, works of literature and art should continue to explore the source of civilization, follow its inheritance path, and meet today’s changes, to highlight the Chinese aesthetics and the intertwined nature of classical and modern values.

Modern technology empowerment

Technology is the means and basis for the perfect presentation of art. With the advent of the omnimedia era, the presentation forms of communication technology as an art are increasingly diverse, and new technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) are gaining momentum.

In this process, innovative expressions of literary and artistic creation have been empowered by new technologies, which not only make audio-visual presentations more magnificent and dazzling, but also enhance the audience’s sense of experience, immersion, and satisfaction, and inject new vitality into the creative transformation and innovative development of traditional culture.

For example, “China in the Classics” was filmed using a fully enclosed three-dimensional stage, with a 270-degree curved screen, side curtains, and a tunnel running through the center of the stage, which mimics a space-time tunnel to connect the past and present, so that classics can be presented simultaneously from different time periods, and the audience can also change viewing angles with the rotation of a chair. The program integrated the use of AR, screen projection, real-time tracking, and other technologies to strengthen the audience’s sense of immersion.

Similarly, the classical dance “Palace Banquet in the Tang Dynasty,” which aired on Henan TV for the 2021 Spring Festival Gala, perfectly integrated the work’s theme with 5G, VR, and other technological means. Specifically, VR technology moved holographic images of national treasure cultural relics such as the Jiahu bone flute, a Lotus and Crane square kettle, “Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers” (by Zhou Fang) and “Court Ladies Preparing Silk” (by Zhang Xuan) to the screen, presenting the museum to the audience. Coupled with a vivid performance by 14 dancers, the immersive visual experience of “people walking in the painting” was achieved with the aid of VR.

As we can see, the power of modern technology not only broadens the creative vision of traditional cultural programs, but also brings more imaginative space and leeway for the production team, allowing more possibilities for creative transformation and innovative development of traditional Chinese culture.

A poem, a cultural relic, a festival, an idiom, a folk custom and etiquette, all have a soul that endures the test of time. Narration of traditional culture should find its entry point, distinguish the big picture from the details, and present it to the audience in a lively, friendly, and interesting way with the help of technology. During the 2022 Beijing Ice and Snow Culture Festival, the palace painting “Ice Games,” stored in the Palace Museum, was revived using 3D digital technology. The ice movements of 160 groups of characters in the painting, such as shooting arrows, flying forks, dancing knives, and whittling sticks, were vividly displayed by modern 3D technology.

In addition, programs such as “How to Talk About This Painting (Ci Hua Zen Jiang)” and “Words in the Painting (Hua Li You Hua)” make it difficult to reach ancient paintings shine brightly using creativity and technology, so that famous ancient paintings are approachable to the public in a more lively and interesting way, causing wide-spread discussions and transmissions. The “Snow Ruyi,” “Snow Tour Dragon,” and “Snow Great Wall” which debuted at the Beijing Winter Olympics are also concrete manifestations of the integration of snow sports with traditional Chinese culture under the power of modern technology.

Multi-channel transmission

In the current media environment, the internet’s two-way interactions and decentralized communication methods have indeed replaced one-way communication centered on traditional media. In this era of mass media and the convergence of media, the promotion of literary and artistic works must also rely on the all-media platform. The publicity and distribution strategy for artistic works of traditional culture cannot be the same on different platforms. Instead, there should be a large-scale, full-coverage, and systematic platform chain effort to increase traffic and viewership.

First, the focus could be on expanding the influence of literary and artistic works through short video platforms. Through small but refined short videos, highlights of programs can be presented to the audience in the shortest time, so that they will find their target audience more intuitively and conveniently.

Second, the popularity of the program’s trendy topics should be emphasized on social media. Through interactive topics on the most commonly used public social platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Bilibili, and Douyin, as well as the communication effects and catalytic effects of online influencers, celebrities, and authoritative media, the program’s reach could be amplified.

For example, derivative programs and interactive topics on Weibo for “China in the Classics” enable the program’s second wave on the internet, creating a relatively ideal publicity and distribution effect. Again, the “Wonderful Tour (Qimiao You)” series produced by Henan TV chose to release on Bilibili, where audience members can leave real-time comments, which creates a beneficial interactive atmosphere, raises people’s interest in traditional culture, and shapes the public’s collective memory.

In the media convergence era, multi-screen and multi-platform communications also make their way to small screen communication and mobile-first communication. For example, the “Chinese Poetry Conference” production team introduced technology for 5G multi-party real-time video connections and interactions, which accumulated more than 300 million views on multiple platforms. The Henan TV festival series also gave priority to small screen communication and even prioritized content production for mobile terminals.

In summary, excellent traditional culture is an ancient pearl and a modern treasure. Rare and precious cultural relics, classical literature, and folk customs are sources of inspiration for contemporary literary and artistic creation. As more “guaranteed viewership” and “known outside of fixed audience circle” works enter the public eye, we are promoting the excellent traditional culture and offering a lens to understand Chinese civilization through a contemporary perspective. In turn, the impact of these programs will further raise public cultural consciousness, and enhance traditional culture protection and inheritance, so as to encourage the all-round development of the relevant IP industrial chain.


Zhang Youping is from the Shandong University of Arts.


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