China’s Forbidden City apps bring priceless relics to the mobile generation

Are young people too busy staring at their phones to be able to appreciate priceless historical art and artifacts? A series of apps created by the museum associated with the Forbidden City has proven that this is not at all the case.

The museum is following a trend where the world’s top museums, including also the British Museum and the Louvre Museum, are bringing their precious collections to smart device users by developing e-museum apps.

China’s Palace Museum, the country’s largest museum for classical Chinese culture and art, have expanded beyond that to reach a new generation of internet-savvy fans. Aside from its e-museum app, the Palace Museum has developed a series of apps that have attracted millions of users, including younger social media addicts. The apps come in many forms: an interactive painting app, an exquisite calendar, and game apps.

The Night Revels of Han Xizai

Night Revels of Han Xizai is a masterpiece among China’s classic paintings. The iPad app of the same name, which has an English version, was developed based on this precious painting.

Han Xizai

The app focuses on a single classic painting, using high definition images. To complete the painting, it provides videos of researchers’ comments, and a reenactment of the ancient dances and arts shown in the painting.

The interactive feature allows users to click on an aspect of the painting in the app to read related information, including the fate of the characters in the painting, as well as the rhythm and dances associated with the music in the scene.

Han Xizai 2

A Calendar app

One of the majestic Palace Museum’s efforts in the internet era is a calendar app that showcases a piece of art from the Museum’s collection every day, and describes its craftsmanship and background knowledge.

Click on the Chinese calligraphy brush at the bottom right, and you can start writing a note – a visually pleasing one, with the date, piece of art, and your writing on it – before sharing the photo with friends on social media. You can sync your notes among different devices while you are logged on to the app.

Currently the app only supports Chinese language. It is available to be downloaded on Android and iOS devices.

The app, finely designed by the Palace Museum, which has more than a million rare and valuable works of art that could be showcased on it, was chosen to be on the Best of (iOS) App Store list in 2015.


The technology behind it

For the calendar app’s users, it is simply a matter of opening the app and browsing the photos selected for them every day. For developers, though, the work is much harder.

Every single photo in the app is both large and high definition. It requires complex technology to ensure that the photo quickly opens among its thousands of users, many of whom would open it at the same time.

The app’s developing team optimized the code, server, and back end to provide a smooth user experience on the app.

A day in the life of an emperor

Among the Palace Museum’s wide array of apps, an app that demonstrates a young emperor’s daily life is most popular among kids.

The cartoon-style app is designed for kids aged 9 to 11, and took off quickly after launch.

For example, when the emperor gets up, you get to choose between two outfits, before the app tells you which outfit the emperor wore according to historical facts and why.


The app only provides a Chinese version for the iPad so far.

By developing these user friendly apps, the ancient and solemn Palace Museum is finding a way to engage people in a new way.

(Top photo from The Palace Museum’s Weibo)

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