Traditional Chinese art and culture are finding new life on the Internet thanks to a joint effort to preserve the country’s history for a new generation.
The project, called ChinaVine, is a collaboration among the University of Central Florida, the University of Oregon, and other partners in the United States and China. Through ChinaVine, the group is sharing Chinese customs and folk culture using modern technology.
ChinaVine’s redesigned interactive website, which launched this week, will help English-speaking children and adults learn about China’s cultural heritage.
“Many Chinese traditions are centered in rural areas, but people are migrating to urban areas as China becomes an economic powerhouse,” explained Kristin Congdon, a UCF philosophy professor emerita who leads ChinaVine with Doug Blandy from the University of Oregon.
“Folk traditions are changing or being lost as individuals move to the cities for work. The Chinese view their traditional culture as an important part of China’s history and national identity,” said Congdon. “The ways in which the rural and urban traditions have been practiced for generations should be preserved and celebrated.”
For nearly six years, teams of students, professors and other scholars have explored Chinese villages and captured descriptions and pictures of vanishing art forms for the project.
They’ve visited off-the-beaten-path towns that seldom see visitors, and recorded documentaries of locals as they create their art and share stories of their culture.
Art forms such as dance, architecture, music and literature are among those featured on ChinaVine’s website, an internationally accessible library for the collected content. The site includes videos and interactive features, as well as narratives from students and scholars who have been involved with the project.
“We want the website to be a resource for living in the global world,” said Congdon. “We see it as a teaching tool that will help people discover their own identities as they learn about others.”
UCF senior Joel Batchler can attest firsthand to ChinaVine’s encouragement of global experiences. He is among the more than 60 students from UCF who have been involved with the project. The students come from a variety of diverse disciplines, such as humanities, philosophy, film and others.
Batchler, who is studying Piano and Language, joined the ChinaVine team after meeting Congdon in a class offered through UCF’s Burnett Honors College.
He said he made a life-changing first trip to Beijing in January 2011 to research traditional Chinese music for ChinaVine. During the trip, Batchler had the opportunity to share one of his performances with faculty and administrators from the China Conservatory of Music, where he will return to study music after he graduates from UCF in May.
“ChinaVine captured me,” Batchler said. “The project is all about people from outside the culture, like me, who come inside to define it.”
The ChinaVine website was designed so that anyone who has an interest in China can contribute to the project using social media.
All of the website’s content is open source and licensed by Creative Commons, which means that its texts, photographs, videos and other media can be freely used and modified by teachers and learners.
ChinaVine’s educational reach will be further developed thanks to a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant. A new section of the website, EduVine, will engage English-speaking students as they explore their own cultural identities by learning about the diverse lives of the Chinese.
Members of the ChinaVine team plan to make a trip to China in May to continue to build partnerships and conduct fieldwork.
“We want to continue to add resources to the website and expand our partnerships in China so that the English-speaking world can learn more about the Chinese,” said Congdon.