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Emperor for a day

Wang Kaihao
Updated: Nov 4,2014 8:49 AM     China Daily

A new phone app is allowing children the chance to experience life as a Qing Dynasty ruler. It’s part of a trend to make history more inviting to the younger generation, Wang Kaihao reports.

The Palace Museum in Beijing seems to have geared up all its creativity recently to shake off its image as being an old fuddy-duddy. After it drew much public attention with its numerous fashionable souvenirs, the museum released its first iPad app designed for children on Oct 30.

The Emperor’s One Day mixes interactive games and general knowledge of the museum in an eye-catching way. From the first-person perspective of a child emperor in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it follows a day in his life, walking around the biggest palace construction in the world. More than 200 missions are designed on the app.

“We don’t charge any money for this app because it’s only an early starter,” says Yu Zhuang, the chief designer of the app, who heads a team of about 10 people from the museum’s information department.

Yu, 34, believes modern museums have to develop more entertaining options to attract people’s attention to history and the abundant cultural relics.

“Knowledge cannot be put into an old box,” he says. Most members of his team are in their 20s.

Many of the world’s top museums have developed their own phone apps in recent years to better guide visitors and present their exhibits. But most merely introduce information, which Yu says is not appealing to children.

“At least this app tells children the Qing emperors had to get up at 5 am in the morning for work,” he jokes. “It’s a good way to tell them not to get up too late.”

The Palace Museum released its first iPad app, Twelve Beauties of Prince Yong, in 2013 to explain several traditional Chinese paintings with ornate interfaces and interactive games.

Auspicious Symbols in the Forbidden City, the second app, was released in June. It explains the cultural connotations of the royal collections with a simple but elegant interface.

The two apps have been downloaded more than 1 million times, which Yu says is beyond their expectations. However, after releasing three iPad apps, the museum officials are now eager to develop a wider range of franchises.

According to Yu, other than smartphone apps which are planned, they also want to present their first online animation next year.

“That won’t be simple textbooks drawn in cartoons,” he says. “We will have a complete and dramatic storyline. We will have heroes and villains. Nevertheless, children will still learn a lot about our museum from the story.”

Animals and historical figures may be protagonists of the animation, he says.

“If everything goes well, the next steps would be comic books and even animated films,” he says, without revealing details. “I believe the public will accept our new trials.”

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