Stone Carv­ings Get New Archives

Trans­lated by Dai Wei Edited by Mark Zuiderveld Pho­tos by Li Xiaoyin and courtesy of Fang­shan Cul­tural Relics Pro­tec­tion In­sti­tute

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

Since 2016, Fang­shan District has ac­cessed high- pre­ci­sion 3D scan­ning to es­tab­lish dig­i­tal archives of stone carv­ings to pro­tect for relics and re­pairs.

Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity has a vast ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cul­tural items and relics spread far and wide, in many cat­e­gories, which are valu­able and date back as far as 3,000 years.

Still sur­pris­ing to vis­i­tors, relics are cur­rently held in its mu­se­ums, which await sim­i­lar items to be ex­ca­vated and pro­tected. Or­gan­i­sa­tions and ar­chae­ol­o­gists in Bei­jing still try to find them and add them to the archives.

One of these is the Fang­shan Cul­tural Relics Pro­tec­tion In­sti­tute, which has con­ducted re­search on 25 towns and 95 vil­lages, and come up with 380 stone carv­ing sites in Fang­shan District since 2016, with the sup­port of the Fang­shan District Cul­tural Com­mit­tee. It has ac­cess to high-pre­ci­sion 3D scan­ning tech­nol­ogy to es­tab­lish dig­i­tal archives of these carv­ings. It also pro­tect relics and makes re­pairs if nec­es­sary.

The district’s many an­cient stone carv­ings, dat­ing back to the Sui (581–618), Tang (618–907), Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties, are ex­am­ples of its past.

Xiang­guang Tem­ple

These items aren't doc­u­mented in his­tory books or records, only re­vealed by in­scrip­tions on tablets, of which there are nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples, such as some stone tablets in the Huguo Xiang­guang Tem­ple, pre­vi­ously part of a villa of Yao Guangx­iao (1335–1418), a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial and ad­vi­sor to Em­peror Chengzu (1402–1424) who took power dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty.

The Chici xi­ang­guangsi beiji (“im­pe­rial records of tablets of Xiang­guang Tem­ple”) in­di­cates that “Yao Guangx­iao was a mer­i­to­ri­ous

of­fi­cial with a high rank. He gave up the po­si­tion, and went back to the Huayan Tem­ple in Taihu to live in seclu­sion. The em­peror granted him Xiang­guangyuan (Lu­mi­nary Garden) as a villa.”

How­ever, Yao's bi­og­ra­phy as recorded in the Ming­shi (“his­tory of Ming”) says that Yao lived in the Qing­shou Tem­ple in Bei­jing and doesn't men­tion him go­ing to the Huayan Tem­ple or Xiang­guangyuan Villa as an im­pe­rial gift. From this we can con­clude that the records of the Xiang­guang Tem­ple fill a void in of­fi­cial his­tory.

Yao was closely con­nected with Fang­shan. He vis­ited the Yunju Tem­ple and Shi­jing Moun­tain in Fang­shan in the first lu­nar month of 1388. That same year, he en­graved an im­promptu poem ti­tled “Shi­jing Moun­tain” on the stone walls of the moun­tain's Leiyin Cave.

When Em­peror Chengzu was in power, Yao was liv­ing in seclu­sion in Huayan Tem­ple, Fang­shan, and the em­peror granted him to use Xiang­guang Tem­ple as a villa, so it be­came Xiang­guangyuan, or the more com­mon Shaoshiyuan.

The Huguo Xiang­guang Tem­ple is now in Da­hanji Vil­lage at the foot of Longgu Moun­tain, in Fang­shan District. The only struc­tures that re­main in­clude Shan­men (Moun­tain Gate) Hall, Zhonggu (Bell and Drum) Tower, and Tian­wang (Heav­enly King), Ma­havira Guanyin), a Mer­ci­ful Bud­dha, and Ksit­i­garbha halls. There is a large va­cant field be­hind the Ma­havira Hall with di­lap­i­dated halls.

Other in­scrip­tions note, “The ren­o­vated Xiang­guang Tem­ple has sev­eral halls. If you en­ter the moun­tain gate at the front of the tem­ple, you see the first hall, Tian­wang, with a statue of a Bud­dhist war­rior at­ten­dant, across the first hall, you en­ter Ma­havira Hall with a statue of the Ru­lai Bud­dha ( Tatha­gata). You then en­ter the Fangzhang Hall where the ab­bot lives, then en­ter the Dabei Pav­il­ion, with a statue of the Dabei (Great Com­pas­sion) Bud­dha. You then en­ter a square with build­ings around it and you can see the ren­o­vated Baoji Tower (Duobaofo Tower) to the east of the tem­ple. There is a 5.2-hectare space for burn­ing in­cense added af­ter the Xiang­guang Tem­ple was built. That year, the Xiang­guang Tem­ple, Yunju Tem­ple, and sev­eral other tem­ples on Shang­fang Moun­tain were all large tem­ples in Fang­shan. The Xiang­guang Tem­ple was pre­em­i­nent for a pe­riod of time af­ter Em­peror Shen­zong (1573–1620) or­dered it re­paired.”

The tem­ple's present ab­bot says he isn't clear about past events and only knows that Huguo Xiang­guang Tem­ple was once a grand tem­ple with five ma­jor halls and of­ten vis­ited by pil­grims, cur­rently far from be­ing that pros­per­ous to­day.

Nonethe­less, thanks to in­scrip­tions and other bits of his­tory and word of mouth, peo­ple have come to know more about its his­tory and would think it sad if these traces of his­tory were erased. The in­scrip­tions need to be col­lected with a dig­i­tal ar­chive for the stone carv­ings.

In front of the Ma­havira Hall, there is a tem­ple with two 4.8-me­tre-tall stone tablets, each with a square base. Ac­cord­ing to Jin Chao, Di­rec­tor of the Fang­shan Cul­tural Relics In­sti­tute, these two stone tablets were erected dur­ing Em­peror Shen­zong's reign in the Ming Dy­nasty.

At the top of one tem­ple to the east are de­scrip­tions of its his­tory, lay­out and ren­o­va­tion. This in­for­ma­tion is price­less for re­search pur­poses. Archiv­ing and pro­tect­ing the tem­ple's tablets could be a ma­jor rea­son for Fang­shan to be­gin work on a dig­i­tal file for er­rant stone carv­ings.

Mak­ing the Vir­tual Real

To be­gin archival work, scaf­fold­ings were put up around the site. A staff mem­ber dusted off the top of the two tablets with a brush, then stuck on laser po­si­tion­ing stick­ers. Other work­ers got busy ar­rang­ing laser scan­ners, com­put­ers and other elec­tron­ics and did a 3D-scan and dig­i­tal sam­pling for the two tablets. Jin ex­plained the spe­cial na­ture of the tablet in­scrip­tions and their role in tra­di­tional cul­ture for the his­tor­i­cal, lit­er­ary, and artis­tic value for both China's and Bei­jing's his­tory.

Un­for­tu­nately, valu­able tablet in­scrip­tions have been worn down by wind and rain over a long pe­riod, with some so se­ri­ously dam­aged that the in­scrip­tions are hard to read.

The old ink rub­bings used to pre­serve in­scrip­tions ac­tu­ally do more dam­age when the ink seeps into the stone. The use of a rubbed art pa­per would eas­ily have pul­verised their sur­face, caus­ing it to crum­ble apart. These fac­tors caused re­searchers to go look­ing for new tech­nol­ogy and meth­ods to doc­u­ment the con­tent of the stone tablets.

In re­sponse, the com­mit­tee asked New Di­men­sional Imag­i­na­tion Dig­i­tal Tech­nol­ogy (Bei­jing) in 2016 to do some high-pre­ci­sion 3D scan­ning work for 380 stone relics. As a re­sult, their his­toric and artis­tic value has been com­pletely pre­served. The data­base func­tions cover archival man­age­ment, analysing de­fects, di­men­sional dis­plays and other ar­eas to en­sure their cul­tural preser­va­tion. Data col­lec­tion is com­ing to an end.

“The laser po­si­tion­ing points pro­vide cer­tain co­or­di­nates,” ex­plains Wang Heyu, part

of the com­pany in charge of field­work. Wang goes on to ex­plain that, be­fore they use this laser point sticker method, the tech­ni­cians had to work on the scaf­fold­ing for a long time by clean­ing away dust. Now, with laser po­si­tion­ing points, they're ready to start dig­i­tal scan­ning.

Wang also notes, “With the tra­di­tional rub­bing method, you only get a rub­bing from the tablet in­scrip­tion and it's not that sat­is­fac­tory. But, with the dig­i­tal rub­bing method based on 3D scan­ning, you can scan the in­scrip­tion in depth and re­tain the tex­ture of the tablet. In post-pro­duc­tion work, all in­for­ma­tion on the relics is re­pro­duced in 3D and, even if the char­ac­ters are not clear, they can be brought out through deep scan­ning, re­pro­duc­ing the tablet pat­terns.”

The scanned data is then sent back to the com­puter so that dig­i­tal sam­ples sim­i­lar to tra­di­tional rub­bing ap­pear on the screen, but with other de­tails, such as or­na­men­ta­tion and pat­terns in a clear ap­pear­ance, with de­tails that the naked eye couldn't nor­mally dis­cern.

Be­cause the scan­ning only func­tions as a data col­lec­tor, other pat­terns caused by tablet break­age need sym­met­ric tech­nol­ogy restora­tion in the post-pro­duc­tion stage, while un­recog­nis­able char­ac­ters need dig­i­tal re­pair of the pro­to­type based on the opin­ions of spe­cial­ists, schol­ars and re­search.

The data res­o­lu­tion can reach 0.05mm, with an ac­cu­racy of 0.03 mm and dot pitch of 0.4 mm-0.2 mm and im­ages with high res­o­lu­tion of up to 7 bil­lion pix­els can be ob­tained via in­te­gral and lo­cal im­age col­lec­tion of plane 2D cul­tural relics (such as a mu­ral) and curved-sur­face 3D relics (stone carv­ing). Colours can be ac­cu­rately re­stored, and de­tails in tex­ture, colour and or­na­men­ta­tion can be re­vealed more ac­cu­rately.

The data is sent back to the com­pany's dig­i­tal re­pair cen­tre for post-pro­duc­tion work and will later yield line graphs, 3D di­a­grams with pre­cious stone in­scrip­tions to reap­pear in dig­i­tal form. A gi­ant data­base can pro­vide stone in­scrip­tions with its own dig­i­tal file, with data sup­port for relics pro­tec­tion, restora­tion, re­search and ex­hi­bi­tions.

Scaf­fold­ing for 3D Scan­ning

Ex­tract­ing that data wasn't with­out hard labour. The process of erect­ing the scaf­fold­ing, wip­ing the dust from the stone sur­faces, putting on the laser po­si­tion­ing stick­ers, con­duct­ing high­pre­ci­sion 3D scan­ning, data ver­i­fi­ca­tion and re­turn took five work­ers nearly two days.

En­sur­ing that the col­lected data is pre­cise, the scan­ning con­sumes a lot of time and, since it uses in­frared rays, this can be greatly af­fected by sun­shine. Ex­tra care has to be taken to keep the sun­shine away.

Ac­cord­ing to Jin, dig­i­tal ar­chive work is sep­a­rated into three phases: the first be­ing scan­ning for­mu­la­tion, or to be more spe­cific, do­ing the field­work on pre­serv­ing stone carv­ings at the early stage and defin­ing scan­ning meth­ods; the sec­ond is field sam­pling by ar­rang­ing me­chan­i­cal meth­ods to cre­ate a scan­ning en­vi­ron­ment for high-pre­ci­sion 3D dig­i­tal scan­ning for stone in­scrip­tions with the aim of se­cur­ing the relics and pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment from dam­age, in ac­cor­dance with scan­ning meth­ods; and the last is to es­tab­lish a data­base man­age­ment sys­tem, as­sur­ing that the mass data analysis by field sam­pling, draft­ing, colour restora­tion and data en­try is con­ducted to es­tab­lish a dig­i­tal archives of the stone relics.

Those ob­jects that the staff ar­ranged for the dig­i­tal archives in­cluded not only stone tablets, but also Bud­dha fig­ures and rock paint­ings. They had to travel to 25 towns and 95 vil­lages in the district and pore over 300 relics.

These places in­cluded Yao Guangx­iao's tomb, a stone Trip­i­taka in the Yunju Tem­ple, an epi­taph of the pro­vin­cial gover­nor, Liu Ji (757–810) of the Tang Dy­nasty, Lian­quan­chan Tem­ple, and rock paint­ings on the Beizhihe near Xi­ayun Moun­tain.

Dur­ing all this ac­tiv­ity, they were some­times mis­taken for thieves and were ha­rassed by lo­cals. In one in­stance, they weren't re­leased from lo­cal cus­tody un­til the Fang­shan Cul­tural Relics Pro­tec­tion In­sti­tute ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion to the lo­cals. This shows how ac­tive the masses are in pro­tect­ing relics.

Dur­ing field­work, the in­sti­tute made some pre­lim­i­nary mea­sure­ments and at­tained ge­o­log­i­cal records, dis­cov­ered some dis­tant stone carv­ings that weren't on their list and able to doc­u­ment them. It also es­ti­mated the work of on-site scan­ning, and tak­ing pho­tos.

Xu Chao, the pro­ject's ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said that what im­pressed him most was the “Honglu­osanx­ian” ex­pe­ri­ence, where the moun­tain seemed to spi­ral up­ward, and had three tiers of cliffs with wind­ing moun­tain paths un­der each of them.

What Xu said he needed were ru­ins such as an­cient tem­ples, tablets and tow­ers that dec­o­rated these cliffs and were a source of data. The moun­tain path­ways were so rugged that a per­son might have to walk for two or three hours to get to the area, so staff mem­bers col­lect­ing data couldn't carry too much equip­ment.

Even the scaf­fold­ing they car­ried had to be light, which made scan­ning all the more dif­fi­cult. They also needed an elec­tric gen­er­a­tor to sup­ply power on the moun­tain, which added more weight.

Xu ex­pressed it most suc­cinctly, say­ing he wouldn't ever want to make that trip to “Honglu­osanx­ian” a sec­ond time. He was there three times in all, in­clud­ing early ex­plo­ration. For the data col­lec­tion on “Honglu­osanx­ian,” he and the team spent more than six hours ev­ery day com­ing and go­ing, and they could only scan for around two hours each time.

It's hard to imag­ine that there were stone-carved relics with a long his­tory hid­den among these high moun­tains and lofty cliffs still in ex­is­tence if it weren't for the hard work of these in­trepid staff mem­bers.

Dig­i­tal Ar­chive Pro­tec­tion

One other thing the staff mem­bers had to do was to es­tab­lish dig­i­tal archives for some in­door stone-carved relics, such as the Trip­i­taka in Yunju Tem­ple. One of these was when they un­earthed the tomb of Liu Ji from the Tang Dy­nasty.

When that hap­pened, on June 22, 2013, many in Bei­jing stayed home in­stead of go­ing out, with their eyes glued to a live BTV morn­ing show of an on-site ex­ca­va­tion.

Liu was the pro­vin­cial gover­nor of Youzhou, a ma­jor sec­re­tary, and an im­pe­rial com­man­der-in-chief, a dis­tin­guished fig­ure. The age of his tomb was ap­par­ent as it was huge. Its struc­ture re­flected typ­i­cal fea­tures of Tang tombs in the Cen­tral Plains but was cru­cial for re­search on the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ing sys­tem and Bei­jing's tombs dur­ing the late Tang.

Among the re­cov­ered fu­ner­ary ob­jects, a large epi­taph with painted re­lief of the twelve Chi­nese zo­diac fig­ures in­tended for Liu's wife, Zhang, drew the most at­ten­tion from spe­cial­ists and schol­ars. This was a rare item from the Tang epi­taphs dis­cov­ered around that time.

The epi­taph cover of Liu's wife also had a large, gold coloured paint­ing, and was dec­o­rated with the in­cised gilt seal char­ac­ters read­ing, “Epi­taph granted by Tang's late Madam of Ji to madam of Yan, Qinghe im­pe­rial madam.”

There was also an em­bossed im­age of civil of­fi­cials hold­ing the twelve fig­ures of the Chi­nese zo­diac and coloured pe­ony pat­terns painted with evenly dis­trib­uted colours. This epi­taph for Liu's wife was once put on dis­play at a 2015 ex­hi­bi­tion on the com­mon his­tory of Bei­jing, Tian­jin and He­bei.

The beauty of this over-1,000-year old epi­taph is hard to ap­pre­ci­ate even if looked at closely. But, to­day, thanks to the pre­ci­sion of 3D scan­ning and dig­i­tal re­cov­ery, peo­ple can ad­mire and learn more about this relic from dig­i­tal archives, and come to ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery sin­gle de­tail.

As of July 31, 2017, this archiv­ing of the stone carv­ings car­ried out by the in­sti­tute had come to an end but leaves be­hind a good ex­am­ple of relics pro­tec­tion in Bei­jing to­day and how peo­ple can use science and tech­nol­ogy to col­lect data for dig­i­tal archives to bet­ter pro­tect stone relics and re­tain their artis­tic value.

This archival preser­va­tion of stone carv­ings is like pro­vid­ing “dig­i­tal in­sur­ance” for relics and a way to re­sist the rav­ages of time to pre­vent a van­ish­ing cul­ture. Digi­ti­sa­tion has be­come a new means of re­veal­ing his­tory, and of how relics liv­ing in this dig­i­tal sea can re­gain their orig­i­nal glory.

A high-pre­ci­sion 3D scan of a stone carv­ing

Scaf­fold­ings help to keep 3D scan­ning in place for a high stone tablet.

Left is a de­tail from a stone carv­ing, and right is the high-pre­ci­sion 3D scan.

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