The Mogao Caves, located near Dunhuang in China’s Gansu Province, are a gem in the country’s national heritage. And rightly so: first constructed in 366 AD as a place of worship, the grottoes house a monumental trove of ancient Buddhist art, not limited to murals, painted sculptures, manuscripts, and relics. Already a UNESCO World Heritage site, the destination has lately found itself amid China’s ongoing wenchuang trend — wherein the nation’s cultural heritage is rendered into retail goods — being reimagined as virtual fashion, as NFTs, and now, as a trading card game.

Then again, these are no ordinary trading cards. Centered on 90 Mogao murals, the Dunhuang Trading Card Game contains a similar number of cards, some refractive, some containing details that reveal themselves under cold or warm light, and others that are animated with SenseTime’s augmented reality (AR) technology. All cards in the series, though, feature the murals in high resolution, freshly detailed and digitally recolorized in vivid hues. 

The release marks the first time Dunhuang’s cultural heritage has been interpreted as a trading card game. Image: courtesy of Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group and ARTiSTORY

The project emerges from a partnership between Dunhuang Inspiration, an initiative spearheaded by the Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group, and master licensee ARTiSTORY, in a global deal that will license Dunhuang’s IP outside of China for the first time. “We hope to work with ARTiSTORY to create an innovative Dunhuang cultural IP matrix,” says Xiaxia Liu, Deputy General Manager of the Group, “so that Dunhuang culture is represented in a wider range of industries.”

This release — the first time cultural heritage IP has been iterated in the form of trading cards — also taps the growing consumer appetite for wenchuang products. The format of the Dunhuang Trading Card Game further echoes that of the wildly popular blind box, with cards wrapped in opaque packaging to encourage collecting and exchanging. This gamified element, says Liu, is key to audience engagement: “If you want culture to reach consumers through cultural and creative products, then these products need to offer some unique features to address consumer demand. Gameplay is one of the best ways.”

ARTiSTORY x Dunhuang Inspiration

The full set of the Dunhuang Trading Card Game. Image: courtesy of Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group and ARTiSTORY

To further engage potential consumers, the cards will first be released through crowdfunding to “share stories before and after production,” according to Yizan He, CEO and Founder of ARTiSTORY LLP, and Grace Gao, Head of Merchandising at ARTiSTORY China, before making their way to Dunhuang Inspiration’s flagship store and possibly other authorized sellers. On the eve of their release, Jing Culture & Commerce spoke to Liu at Dunhuang Inspiration and He and Gao at ARTiSTORY for insight into their partnership and their first collaborative outing. 

Why is the partnership between ARTiSTORY and Dunhuang Inspiration significant for Dunhuang’s cultural IP?
ARTiSTORY: Obtaining the global-exclusive master license of the Dunhuang Inspiration IP is an important step in ARTiSTORY establishing a top cultural IP resource library, and it is also the starting point for Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group to launch a global IP operation.

Currently, there are many Dunhuang-themed IPs on the domestic market. As a late entrant in the market, Dunhuang Inspiration IP must differentiate and compete. In addition to developing annual themes and design galleries, we will also work with the Dunhuang Cultural & Tourism Group to produce further high-quality content, such as immersive and interactive exhibitions for local and international markets, as a core component of our IP operations.

Why the decision to deploy AR technology on the Dunhuang Trading Card Game?
Dunhuang Inspiration: In addition to advanced printing technology, we hoped to add some technological elements to the cards, the most direct idea being to animate the murals. Through our research, we found that AR technology is the best way to combine physical cards with virtual animations. To us, the trend of combining technology and culture is inevitable, and the best way for technology to serve the people.
ARTiSTORY: Dunhuang murals have gone through thousands of years, while modern technology has given visual art a newfound impact. How to organically integrate technology and mural art? At this time, AR technology is one of the best media. We found SenseTime, a partner with a mature VR technology system, and with their help, the murals were turned into three-dimensional animations to increase the visual experience of the card. 

ARTiSTORY x Dunhuang Inspiration

Before and after images of the Dunhuang murals, which have been digitally redesigned for the Trading Card Game. Image: courtesy of Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group and ARTiSTORY

How would you describe Dunhuang Inspiration’s approach to cultural IP?
Dunhuang Inspiration: Cultural and creative products promote culture to more people through commercial methods. At the same time, it is necessary to avoid excessive consumption, waste of resources, and uneven distribution. This requires industry practitioners to improve the quality of their products and seek out partnerships with different industries. This way, a closed loop encompassing an idea that meets consumers’ demand, a product with cultural origin, and a channel to consumers can be built.

Cultural heritage and cultural relics have become the focus of many products by Chinese institutions — what do you make of this trend?
ARTiSTORY: Cultural products can reach a vast number of consumers, so they have received more and more attention from Chinese cultural institutions. However, a single institution is limited by time, space, and resources. But through IP licensing, institutions can leverage the richer resources of domestic and foreign partners to create more licensed products and services. Through IP, the integration of culture into the lives of consumers will stimulate further interest in art and culture.

How does Dunhuang Inspiration hope to navigate an increasingly competitive cultural IP market?
Dunhuang Inspiration: Continuous innovation is needed, and we need insight into current and future consumer trends. New product categories should be explored to meet growing consumer demand. We must also dig deeper into our IP, cultivating it more intensely. Traditional culture is expansive and profound, and the cultural assets we inherited from our ancestors deserve our full dedication.

What are your thoughts on how the museum IP space will grow in 2022, whether within or beyond China?
ARTiSTORY: At the macro level, benefiting from the rapidly expanding cultural consumer demand, China’s cultural IP market will maintain a good momentum of development in 2022. On the micro level, Chinese cultural and artistic IPs will grow further, with more global brands eager to partner with Chinese cultural IPs. The categories of licensed products have also been further expanded, and the sales scope will no longer be limited to the Chinese market, but will enter the global consumer market.


AR, VR, 3D & AI Technology