Ancient allure seen through a screen
China Daily     Updated: 2019-07-26

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The Sleepless City of Tang, a major destination in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, attracts tourists with its colorful lighting on ancient-style architecture at night.[Photo provided for China Daily]

The popularity of a recent online drama staged in the Tang Dynasty has translated into a surge of visitors to Xi'an, Xu Lin reports.

The hit thriller series, "The Longest Day in Chang'an", takes viewers to the heyday of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). And since its premiere on June 27, it has been creating a new heyday for Xi'an's travel sector and interest in its past.

In the online drama, a death-row inmate, played by actor Lei Jiayin, accepts a mission from a government official, played by singer-actor Yi Yangqianxi, during Lantern Festival. The condemned criminal must save the national capital, Chang'an, from a secret enemy attack within 24 hours. Chang'an is today Shaanxi's provincial capital, Xi'an.

The show's extreme popularity has intensified interest in travel to Xi'an. It demonstrates a new model for marketing destinations in the mobile-internet era.

Major online travel agency Ctrip says searches for flights to the city increased 130 percent from July 2 to 8 compared with the previous week.

"Xi'an" searches on Chinese travel website Mafengwo increased 22 percent week-on-week from the series' debut on June 27.

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Xi'an is well-known for its variety of noodles.[Photo by Wang Xin/For China Daily]

"It's rare for such an already-popular destination like Xi'an to suddenly experience a surge of visitors," says Feng Rao, head of Mafengwo's travel research center.

"It's because the online series has gone viral. More tourists will travel to the city during the summer vacation."

Shao Jihong, a senior director in charge of Ctrip's air-ticket business, agrees.

"The beautiful scenery in films and television, and the celebrity effect are the major drivers behind the trend of traveling to filming locations. Ctrip's data shows that those who were born in the 1980s and 1990s are the main demographic of such travelers this summer."

Chinese travelers are also interested in the locations used in their favorite foreign movies and television shows, she says. The most popular ones this summer are Thailand, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Iceland.

She takes HBO's hit TV series "Game of Thrones" as an example. When it released its finale in May, Chinese travelers paid great attention to its filming locations, including Northern Ireland, Spain and Croatia.

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The Terracotta Warriors, a famous attraction in the city.[Photo provided for China Daily]

Viewers of The Longest Day in Chang'an are particularly interested in Xi'an's museums, as they look to learn more about the culture of the city featured in the online drama.

This prompted Ctrip to develop several in-depth travel products to specific museums related to The Longest Day in Chang'an.

Ctrip tour guide Liu Guoyang, a Xi'an native, takes visitors to the Xi'an Museum to identify terracotta figurines that resemble characters from the series by their hairstyles and attire.

"Young visitors prefer better travel experiences and make holiday plans suddenly. So, a short video or a hit drama may move them," says Liu Chunlin, who heads online travel agency Fliggy's new media marketing section.

"It's the power of quality content and communication in the mobile-internet era."

Shaanxi Festival Cultural Promotion Society president Yan Jianbin recalls that few people in Xi'an paid much attention when a hit TV series featured the city two years ago.

"But this time, government bodies, cultural sites and museums have increased their awareness and are taking the opportunity to market themselves on social media," he says.

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Young singer-actor Yi Yangqianxi plays a wise government official in the TV series, The Longest Day in Chang'an.[Photo provided for China Daily]

For example, after The Longest Day in Chang'an mentioned the Tang's imperial palace that was destroyed by war at the end of the dynasty, the national heritage park hosting the site offered free tickets on weekends to anyone showing up in traditional Chinese attire before Aug 31.

"It shows how an ancient city can delve into its rich history and translate its intangible cultural wealth into robust tourism," Yan says.

Xi'an's culture and tourism bureau has called upon the city's cultural sites and museums to promote Tang culture, as it specifically relates to them, through traditional and new media.

The bureau plans to develop more creative cultural products since ancient costumes, etiquette and smaller props that appear in the series are among the elements that appeal most to audiences and, consequently, tourists.

It will also organize cultural activities for inbound travelers, such as opportunities to wear Tang clothing and participate in ancient ceremonies.

The bureau is also creating new itineraries based on scenes and food from the series.

"The drama vividly showcases intangible cultural heritage, such as traditional papermaking and Lantern Festival customs," says Wang Zhi, deputy director of Xi'an's intangible cultural heritage protection center.

"The thriller has sparked hot debate among young people about comparisons between various aspects of life now and in the Tang era, such as military-alarm systems and timekeeping methods."

He says the online drama focuses on historical accuracy and the authentic portrayal of daily life during the era, showing young people the magnificence and prosperity of Chang'an at the time.

And, apparently, many of them are interested enough to explore it for themselves.

Popular tour sites

Top scenic areas in Xi'an in summer

1. Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum

2. Xi'an City Walls

3. Tang Paradise Theme Park

4. Shaanxi History Museum

5. Muslim Street

6. Huaqing Palace

7. North Square of Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

8. Daming Palace National Heritage Park

9. Yongxing Fang

10. Sleepless City of Tang