Moving scroll brings Song dynasty to life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am

Coolies stack up bags of goods in a pile. People ride on donkeys and sedan chairs. Boats slip along a river, propelled by men. These are all moving characters in the animated version of Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival, whose creator is making final preparations before it makes its debut in Hong Kong next week.

About one out of every 10 Hongkongers has secured a ticket to see the duplicate of the star exhibit from the China pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo, which will be displayed at Asia World-Expo from Tuesday until November 29.

The exhibit is a digital version of the painting Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival, which shows daily life unfolding in Kaifeng - formerly known as Bianjing - during the Northern Song Dynasty 900 years ago. Adjustments to make sure images projected by 12 projectors were synchronised were one-third finished, exhibition director Yu Zheng said yesterday. The progress was faster than scheduled, he said.

While each ticket holder is allowed an hour's visit, Yu advised people to spend 10 minutes getting an overall impression of the scroll before spending another 20 minutes looking at the details. Many might spend the rest of their time looking at exhibits on the dynasty and the animation technology, he said.

Science Museum curator Karen Sit Man described some of the 12 must-see attractions on the scroll. 'The Rainbow Bridge, the drum tower, the camel fleet, boats and various shops selling paper offerings, medicine and fragrances, for example,' she said.

People should arrive at the venue 15 minutes before their time slot, she said. The keenest fans can enter the waiting area an hour before their scheduled time to watch a video and look at exhibits about Hong Kong's participation at the World Expo.

On event days, a return trip on the Airport Express will cost HK$48 instead of HK$100. Trains will depart every 10 minutes instead of the usual 12 minutes. The show's 768,000 tickets have sold out, but some were still available on auction websites for 10 times more than their original HK$10.

Millions visited the China pavilion, but they might not have known that the animated artwork offers clues to a series of Song dynasty innovations, Professor Victor Sit Fung-shuen, director of the Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies at Baptist University, said.

Bianjing, the ancient Chinese capital, was far more urbanised than Western cities 900 years ago, Sit said, adding: 'Bianjing was similar to the London of the 18th century.'

While the original Riverside painting shows Bianjing during the day, the digital scroll adds a transition into night-time: animated figures are gathered at restaurants, having fun drinking. It sounds perfectly normal to enjoy a night out at a bar by modern standards. But it was not until the Song dynasty that Chinese residents could leave their homes at night, Sit explained. Entertainment for the public, such as Chinese opera and story reading, also started around the same time.

The river that dominates the lower part of the digital scroll was a vital transportation route in Bianjing. 'Ninety per cent of rice and salt demanded by residents in the capital was shipped in,' Sit said.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah may be interested to know that an environment bureau was in place 900 years ago. 'The trees along the river were not wild. They were planted by the government,' Sit said.