Emperor's old clothes gain digital pizazz

August 05, 2014 14:21
Emperor Yongzheng is depicted as a cool character in the Palace Museum's animated gifs. Photo: Palace Museum/WeChat

Between viewing the treasures of the Palace Museum and playing Candy Crush, most web-addicted youngsters would have no second thoughts about choosing the latter for a day of recreation -- unless, of course, a report on the art exhibits in Beijing's Forbidden City is a school requirement, in which case they will probably just let Wikipedia take care of it.

But the men and women of the national museum, which houses the imperial collection of the Ming and Qing dynasties, are constantly thinking of new, fun ways to get the younger generation interested in China's rich cultural past. 

And now things are slowly happening. Netizens are talking about this cool dude called Yongzheng, the fifth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and paintings of him mixed up in various quotidian adventures are competing with the latest Korean TV drama episodes in grabbing the young people's short attention span.

Thanks to the zany imagination of the Palace Museum’s digital art team led by Yu Zhuang, old figure paintings depicting Emperor Yongzheng come to life through the magic of animated gifs. Since Friday, when the gifs were first posted on the museum's WeChat account, the images have been shared more than 802,000 times on social media sites.

The collection, titled Yongzheng Xingle Tu (Emperor Yongzheng at Play), shows the ruler adorned in colorful costumes and engaged in various chores. But what brings the house down are the amusing captions that go with the pictures.

In one, the emperor is washing his feet by the river bank, dressed as an ordinary farmer. Says the caption: "My feet… are so itchy…"

In another image, the emperor fights a tiger with a trident. “I dare you to come out!” he shouts, to which the beast, cowering in a cave, responds: “I dare you to come inside!”

In one summer scene, the ruler cools himself with a feather fan. “There are times when I just want to be an ordinary handsome man,” he sighs.

Sometimes he goes fishing or hunts for fowl, but the pictures don't show if he catches one.

History books describe him as a workaholic who considered all the days of the year, except his birthday, as work days. But if this is all he did all his livelong days ... Oh well, that's because he's the emperor.

Yu Zhuang is pleasantly surprised by the public reception to the animations. “Maybe people prefer a lively style rather than serious introductions to the treasures of the Forbidden City,” Yu tells Beijing News.

Yu's creative team is thinking of launching mobile apps to popularize not only the paintings of Emperor Yongzheng but other museum treasures as well. That way, young people will get to know more about the country's rich culture and history, and nurture a sense of pride in their motherland.

Emperor Yongzheng's animated gifs on the Palace Museum WeChat account:


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How dare he hunt a tiger with a trident?
The emperor washes his feet by the river bank, dressed as an ordinary farmer.
The emperor is not above sharing fruit with a monkey.
He is also a good archer.
Good handwriting skill worthy of an empire.

EJ Insight reporter