Dispersed Chinese Art Digitization Project

Due to historical circumstances and the appeal of Asia in the international art market in the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, countless East Asian works of art were removed from their historical places of origin and dispersed around the world. The CAEA has engaged in research and digital imaging projects begun previously that employ virtual imaging to capture and present information on dispersed artworks. It has made the results of these projects are accessible on websites that are widely used for teaching and research. Since 2020 an expanded initiative, the DCADP, offers far-reaching possibilities for compiling, imaging, identifying, and recontextualizing artifacts taken from important cultural sites in China.

Ambitious in scale and scope, the initiative was launched by the CAEA at UChicago in collaboration with the Institute for Technological Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Arts Department, at Xi’an Jiaotong University. Generous funding from the Cyrus Tang Foundation supports the work of faculty, students, and staff from both universities. The projects comprising the DCADP initiative include conferences, and scholarly exchanges extend to numerous other institutions, including universities, museums, and cultural sites.

A major component of the DCADP is the use of modern digital platforms for acquisition, processing, and archiving of digital data on traditional Chinese arts. Technical teams carry out scanning of artworks both in China and outside China and process them into digital 3D models. Using these resulting models, project researchers and technical experts aim to create digital displays, websites, and exhibitions for the virtual restoration of important damaged cultural sites in China with the cooperation of institutions charged with the protection and management of these cultural sites.

Wanfo Hall, Zhihua Temple, Beijing

Zhihua Temple Project

Zhihua Temple, built in Beijing in 1444 by the powerful eunuch Wang Zhen, is one of the best-preserved examples of Ming dynasty court-style architecture constructed with the finest workmanship and materials. In 1961, the temple was among the first 90 historic buildings designated by the Chinese government as national cultural relics. Two of the temple's exceptional components, however, are now located in the U.S. The elaborately carved and assembled coffered wood ceilings of two of the buildings had been taken down and sold in the early part of the 20th century and are now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. The Zhihua Temple project undertook  collaborative research, 3D imaging, and digital restoration. 

Zhihua Temple Digital Restoration Website