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Animated Chinese idioms could be key to cultural education
By sophia on 2018-12-14

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"The people from the Kingdom of Zhao were music savvy. They walked like this, very elegantly," says Chou Kung-shin, as she demonstrates how people walked during the Warring States Period.

"That's why a young man from the neighboring Kingdom of Yan tried to imitate the way they walked," Chou says, explaining the Chinese idiom, handan xuebu (meaning to copy the way they walk in Handan). It is used to describe someone who slavishly imitates others and loses their own originality.

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

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

The online version of the Illustrated Stories of Chinese Culture series was launched on WeChat in 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 ancient life and present Chinese culture in a complete and systematic way," she says.

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 handan xuebu.

Over the past four years, Chou and her team have 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 says.

"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."

Over a quarter of the world's population speaks 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 virtual reality technologies. Additionally, they will also design everyday products that bring learning closer to people's daily lives.

"Learning a culture is different from learning other subjects. It requires longtime commitment and gradual accumulation over time in order to internalize a culture into your thinking and actions," she says.

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

"The characters in the animated stories are inspired by lacquer paintings," Chen says. "Sometimes the team held 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 says.

The learning materials are not confined to text 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 says the team worked closely with museums from the mainland, which house many archaeological artifacts the team required for their research.

They also published the first volume of the accompanying series of books by a publishing house in Shanghai, winning an award in the city for the best children's book.

"We want to borrow old wisdom to enlighten the future," Chou says.

"We hope people will learn the richness of Chinese culture and get wisdom and creativity from it."


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