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Saturday, 25 October 2008 07:52

IBM and Chinese Palace Museum open Forbidden City virtual 3D tour

Some 600 years after construction began, China's Palace Museum and IBM opened the sprawling walled fortress to the world via an immersive 3D virtual experience.

Just a cursory visit to the Forbidden City in central Beijing is enough to fill anyone with awe, even in the 21st century when there are so many other known large-scale architectural treasures.

In the Ming dynasty, after the Prince of Tan ascended the throne as emperor Zhu Di, he moved Nanjing ("southern capital") to Beijing ("northern capital') and oversaw construction of the Forbidden City between 1406 and 1420.

The Forbidden City was created to embody the idea of the Chinese emperor as the center of the universe and to evoke a visceral sense of his power.

For more than five hundred years, the Ming and Qing emperors ruled China from the palaces of the Forbidden City. The art and architectural treasures from this period are the cultural heart of modern China.

It was the unassailed seat of imperial power right through until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912. The Academy Award winning "The Last Emperor" catches the last spasms of imperial glory, and is very much worth watching.

Of late there have been quite a few popular movies catching the flavor of Chinas' long history, of the intrigues and wars, some of them loosely based on reality. The last one I viewed was Zhang Yimou's "Curse of the Golden Flower" and it was most enjoyable even if a little fanciful. The battle scenes in a palace based on the design of the Forbidden City are terrific.

There's one scene right near the end — quite thought provoking in terms of the scale of things carried out in China, even if not as spectacular as some of the action scenes — after the final battle has been lost by the hero, when the myriad broken pots of yellow chrysanthemums are quickly replaced as if nothing has occurred.Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City - from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Now you can deeply immerse yourself in the environment of the Forbidden City, from the comfort of your desk. (And nothing like as tiring as actually going there. I visited the City briefly one weekend during an IBM business trip, and became exhausted after walking round just a tiny part of the huge grounds.)

Three years in the making, IBM has meticulously built a virtual recreation of the architecture and artifacts of the former palace grounds, enabling online visitors to get a first-hand view into imperial China as embodied in the intricate design, history and storied culture of this newly accessible Forbidden City.

To quote the press release: "Using virtual world technology, rather than experiencing its wonders in isolation, the virtual Forbidden City allows you to see and interact with other users and a range of helpful automated characters."

"As you explore the virtual Forbidden City, you can choose to simply observe the buzz of activity, or you can take tours and participate in activities that provide insights into important aspects of Qing culture."

This, they say, "is the world's first online virtual world dedicated to a country's cultural heritage. This is presented as a three-dimensional replica of the square-kilometre palace grounds called The Virtual Forbidden City. The project partners' goal was to create an experience that is as authentic as possible by being true to important Chinese principles of balance and harmony."


The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time, a partnership between IBM and the Palace Museum in Beijing, China, was opened on 10 October 2008.

See the introductory video at the bottom of this page.

Visitors to the virtual Forbidden City are able to take tours that correspond to major historical topics and stories from the Forbidden City, such as Dragons of the Forbidden City, the Supreme Golden Halls of the Forbidden City, the Imperial Garden, and the Symbolic Animals in the Forbidden City.

Rather than being an isolating virtual experience, the Virtual Forbidden City allows visitors to see and interact with each other and with a wide range of volunteers, staff, and automated characters.

Dress up as an imperial eunuch, watch the emperor feasting or training fighting crickets, engage in activities such as archery attended by an imperial courtesan, stride around in as an imperial warrior.

To welcome the broadest range of visitors, a simple, easy to use interface guides interactions with the Virtual Forbidden City.

As they explore the Virtual Forbidden City, visitors can choose to simply observe the buzz of activity, participate in activities that provide insights into important aspects of the Qing dynasty, or even take guided tours that uncover new insights into the stories of the Forbidden City.

In addition, the Virtual Forbidden City also provides "an unequalled way for people to plan a visit to the real Palace Museum.

Visitors to the Palace Museum will be much better able to find their way and to understand the significance of places and things they encounter because of their experiences in the Virtual Forbidden City."

Don't miss this chance to visit (virtually) The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time, and see things previously out of bounds to mere mortals.

Beyond Space and Time is comprised of a portfolio of customized, integrated products and services including WebSphere Application Server, Advanced ESB (WebSphere Message Broker) DB2, GarageGames’ orque Game Engine, and other open source components. BladeCenters running Linux Blade servers support the highest level of performance and robustness. IBM Rational software tools facilitated the design, development, and testing of the project applications.

SUPPORTED ENVIRONMENTS: The Virtual Forbidden City virtual world application runs on Windows XP/Vista, Mac OSX, and Linux.


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Tony Austin

Worked at IBM from 1970, for a quarter century, then founded Asia/Pacific Computer Services to provide IT consulting and software development services (closed company at end of 2013). These says am still involved with IT as an observer and commentator, as well as attempting to understand cosmology, quantum mechanics and whatever else will keep my mind active and fend off deterioration of my grey matter.

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