Visit China's Forbidden City -- as a virtual eunuch

Fri Oct 10, 2008 6:30am EDT
 
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

BEIJING (Reuters) - Culture fans thousands of miles from Beijing can now visit its famous Forbidden City, through a three dimensional recreation of the vast palace that also allows them to dress up as an imperial eunuch and meet a courtesan.

One of the jewels in China's cultural crown, the sprawling complex in the heart of the capital already gets tens of thousands of real-life visitors each day.

But now online tourists can also watch the Qing dynasty emperor feast at dinner, train fighting crickets and feed them with blood-fattened mosquitoes, or practice archery with the help of a courtesan.

At the virtual palace, unveiled on Friday, they can also dress up as part of the huge imperial entourage.

"When you enter the Forbidden City you choose one of nine historical costumes, which is to give a sense of history but also keep a sense of decorum," said John Tolva, program manager at IBM who led the project, dubbed "Beyond Space and Time."

"You can't run and you can't fly," he added, a restriction that aims to prevent other virtual visitors, whom you can see and interact with, being distracted.

The program does not shy away from the racier sides of imperial history, shaped in part by the legions of eunuchs who controlled portions of court life and could rise to great power.

"One of the costumes you can chose is a eunuch," said IBM Vice President Paula W. Baker -- though to spare blushes that avatar is only labeled "imperial servant."   Continued...

 
<p>A combination picture shows the Forbidden City in Beijing taken August 1, 2008 (top) and a three dimensional virtual tour of the Forbidden City October 10, 2008. Culture fans thousands of miles from Beijing can now visit its famous Forbidden City, through a three dimensional re-creation of the vast palace that also allows them to wander through the courtyards and temples, meet a courtesan and even dress up as an imperial eunuch. REUTERS/Staff/Files</p>