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Double-edged sword: Chinese vloggers introduce abandoned ancient tombs to public, but risk damaging these valuable cultural relics
Published: Dec 24, 2020 03:23 PM

Aerial photo taken on June 5, 2019 shows the family tomb of bronzeware artisans of the Shang Dynasty in Anyang, central China's Henan Province. Archaeologists in central China's Henan Province said they have identified 42 tombs unearthed since 2017 to be a family tomb of bronzeware artisans dating back over 3,000 years. (Photo: Xinhua)

Armed with his cell phone and a searchlight, a man walks along a dark paved path leading to a tomb. This is not a scene from a TV drama or a film, but the content of a short video that has been viewed millions of times. This video and others like it have sparked major concern in China about the threat people looking to go viral pose to the country's cultural relics.

Dalong, a vlogger with 7.2 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has uploaded to the platform more than 200 videos, many of which show him visiting various ancient tombs. Some of these videos were filmed at various tourist sites, but the more controversial ones show him sneaking into tombs scattered around the countryside that have not yet been opened to the public. 

In one video with more than 200,000 views, the vlogger worms his way in a hole of a tomb that is said to have belonged to the 16th son of Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). 

After climbing into the tomb, the short video shows that nothing has been left inside, even coffins. Then Dalong finds two holes dug by grave robbers.

He introduces the layout and architecture of the tomb to viewers and notes every section's name as well as function. After he finally exits the tomb, he calls on viewers not to visit abandoned tombs alone as they can be dangerous.

Many comments left under the video thank the vlogger for allowing them to experience mysterious ancient tombs from the safety of their homes and that the videos have allowed them to learn more about archaeology.

On Chinese short video platforms, there are many other vloggers like Dalong posting short videos focusing on ancient tombs. The hashtag gumu (ancient tomb) has more than 1.2 billion views on Douyin, according to a report from the Xinhua News Agency.

Experts have noted that the popularity of these videos can have the power to increase public interest in cultural relics and archaeology, but on the negative side also pose a challenge when it comes to ancient tomb conservation.

Liu Zheng, a member of the China Cultural Relics Academy, told the Global Times that a number of tombs are not well known as they are scattered in remote areas and do not contain a large number of burial objects, so videos like these can help introduce their history to the public. 

However, these content makers risk damaging these cultural relics. 

"These vloggers are not professional archaeologists and do not know how to explore tombs correctly," Liu said. 

The moment by opening tunnels to the interior of these tombs, they could possibly damage the murals and stone inscriptions inside.

Liu suggested that perhaps authorized organizations could train volunteers to seek out and record these ancient tombs for conservation and research purposes.


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