A museum photographer who shoots excavations at the Terracotta Warriors' site creates illustrations using cultural relics to remind people of infection prevention as work resumes in China, Yang Feiyue reports.
A museum photographer who works at the Terracotta Warriors' excavation site has created comics featuring ancient artifacts to remind the public of precautions during work resumption, as the COVID-19 outbreak comes under control in China.
Zhao Zhen has turned these relics into vivid and funny comics.
The photographer has created five series with about 60 panels in total, for instance depicting the history of facemasks and otherwise educating about hygiene and health precautions since late January, when the virus started to seize the country.
The resident of Shaanxi province's capital, Xi'an, also portrayed construction workers' resolution and efficiency when building the Leishenshan makeshift hospital to offer more beds to people infected with the virus in Hubei province's capital, Wuhan. All of the comics incorporate well-known Chinese cultural relics.
"Cultural relics are what I know best," says Zhao, who works at Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi'an.
"So, they just came to me naturally when I drew comics."
One of his works calls attention to medical-waste treatment using a bronze lamp from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24).
The original is a maiden holding a lamp connected to her long sleeve that heated perfumed water.
"This is our ancestor's contribution to respiration," Zhao says.
His rendition swaps the woman's face for a cat's. And the lantern contains medical waste like used facemasks to remind people to properly dispose of them.
Zhao also reimagined stone statues of China's legendary first emperor, Fuxi, and the goddess, Nyuwa, who created the world and animals in the first six days.
The actual sculptures are preserved at the Wu's Tomb Stone Carving Museum in Shandong province. Both figures hold a ruler and a compass, symbolizing the importance of aboveboard behavior.
Zhao replaced the ruler and compass with a thermometer and health certificate.
"Effective epidemic control results from our adherence to rules and discipline, which is our national character," he says.
The comic is meant to urge employees to continue to report their health conditions to administrators during work resumption.
Zhao's comics have been submitted to a campaign Beijing initiated in early February that calls for artistic creations to convey information and a positive spirit in the nation's fight against the novel coronavirus.
The campaign is jointly hosted by several organizations, including Beijing's culture and tourism bureau, and the Beijing Animation and Game Industry Alliance.
Organizers have received more than 7,000 artworks from around China and more than 500 pieces from 40 countries and regions, says Liu Chungang, a representative of the alliance.
"Zhao's works are very good and novel, and a combination of ancient Chinese relics and the (current) age," Liu says.
Liu says campaign organizers plan to develop them into an animation.
Zhao says it wasn't difficult to select artifacts as motifs.
"Most of my works use well-known relics, so the public is more likely to identify with them," he says.
Zhao has been interested in archaeology since childhood.
"I was drawn to photos of intricate ancient items in the books my dad brought back," Zhao says.
His father used to work at Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum, which hosts the Terracotta Warriors.
"Relics were beautiful and mysterious. The more I was exposed to them, the more they became a part of my life," he says.
Zhao began to sketch them in primary school.
The more he drew, the closer he felt with the artifacts on the brochures and documents from his father.
He came to love them even more when they appeared in his schoolbooks.
"I wanted to see them in person," he recalls.
Zhao took that desire to the extreme. After he was discharged from the military in 1995, he took a job at the same museum where his father had worked.
His career as a photographer there has given him close-quarters access to many artifacts.
"I have to photograph relics to capture their details," he says.
Otherwise, sometimes, viewers can't see such information as small inscriptions on such artifacts as Terracotta Warriors from a distance.
So, he tries to pack as much info as possible in his images.
"It has to be done discerningly to convey accurate information," Zhao says.
He usually works with archaeological teams and records everything as they conduct excavations at the tomb.
"It's like sifting through a hoard of treasure and not knowing what you'll unbury next," he says.
Zhao has also read historical documents since he started at the museum to develop a deeper understanding of archaeology.
"I can access firsthand information about those artifacts," he says.
"People around me can answer any questions vividly."
This has helped his photography, he says.
As Zhao has learned more about archaeology, he has been taking greater joy in speculating with colleagues what discoveries will be next.
"We often guess when the first piece of a buried item becomes visible and then see if we're right when it's excavated," he says.
"It's exciting, which makes it the best job in the world for me."
But Zhao must wear protective gear, including facemasks and hoods to shield against dust during his six-hour shifts.
"Sometimes, you can't tell the (original) color of the mask after I come out of the pit," he says.
He has to wear heating pads in winter. He sweats in his gear in summer.
And the photographer must ensure he gets good shots while keeping relics intact under sometimes-tough conditions.
"The space between them (the artifacts) can be very small. I have to thread through them, bend and kneel to get a good angle to capture important details," he says.
Zhao continues to sketch after work. But he has gone beyond merely drawing realistic depictions to adapting them into visual stories.
"Anytime I have an idea now, I can't help but associate it with a cultural relic," he says.
He has drawn a sketch or two a day for years and posts them on his Sina Weibo account, which has about 20,000 followers.
"I hope comics can make ancient culture more accessible to modern people," he says.
Many of his comics have received first prizes at provincial and national competitions.
Zhao says he has seen a positive attitude shift toward museums during his two decades in the field.
"In the '90s, it was more like a tourism destination. Now, it's like a city's greeting room for visitors. People go to the museum to know a city on their first visit. They pay more attention to culture and mindset."
This has reinforced his sense of responsibility, he says.
"I'll keep doing what's expected of me, enjoying archaeology and letting more people experience its magic."