There are problems associated with protecting many of the ruins. Should they be rebuilt or left with their natural appearance?
There are also financial considerations. To rebuild a palace or historic building requires huge amounts of money. The foundations, which are deep under ground, may well have deteriorated and if interesting artifacts are buried there, they'll be lost forever.
To leave such buildings to age naturally results in them losing any meaning for average people. Except archaeologists, no one is in a position to appreciate how magnificent a building was by looking at the remaining stones and timbers.
Prof Tan Guoxin with the Educational Information Technology Research Center of Central China Normal University (CCNU), said that he was studying a new system for protecting cultural relics using digital restoration techniques.
Currently the technique is being used on a project relating to Wudang Mountain. Wudang Mountain has splendid buildings related to the magnificent Taoism culture. But some of the cultural relics have simply been eroded by time; many were destroyed; and some others have been submerged under water.
Yuxu Palace is an example. The palace was destroyed by fire several decades ago and only small houses and broken artifacts remained. There's no detailed record of its original appearance or building style. Tan's center accordingly put forward a digitalizing project with collaboration of CCNU's Taoist and Taoism Culture Research Institute and the Taoism Culture Research Institute of Wudang Mountain.
According to the plan, the two institutes carry out the research work while the Educational Information Technology Research Center takes the responsibility for producing images in a three-dimensional format creating a virtual Wudang Mountain world.
One million yuan (about US$125,000) has already been invested in the project and the digitalization of Yuxu Palace has almost finished. They plan to digitalize all the main buildings over a period of five years. Visitors to the virtual world will be able to view highly detailed images which will allow them to pick out single bricks. Information about Taoism musical instruments, medicine, martial arts and other cultural points of interest will also be included.
Another project underway is digitalization of cultural relics in the Three Gorges area. Images of the area's scenery, the ongoing archaeological work, the mixture of Ba and Chu cultures, the impact of other customs, ancient homes and the relics unearthed there will be included. The evolution of ancient wares will also be displayed by comparing what is unearthed with other relics.
Tan said, "We're digitalizing the cultural relics to show them to not only ordinary people but also experts and archaeologists who need this information."
The project also has the support of CCNU's Chu Culture Research Center.
What has already been recorded includes the information on general environment, ancient residents and more than 100 cultural relics. The total input in the project, which is scheduled to be complete in two years, will reach 400,000 yuan.
According to Tan, the application of digitalization techniques in cultural relics protection is still at the experimental stage, and there are plans to digitalize the Hanju opera, the Chu culture, the Confucius story and other historically interesting subjects in Hubei.
Shen Haining, vice director of the Hubei Provincial Culture Department and director of Hubei Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, said that the idea was advanced and valuable and that the government would be supportive. According to him, some cultural relics, for instance, silk, can't be exhibited in museums because exposure to light and air can damage them. But digitalization makes them accessible.