Trea­sure trove

An ex­hi­bi­tion of ar­ti­facts from the For­bid­den City is now on in Hong Kong to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of its re­turn to China. Wang Kai­hao re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For­bid­den City ar­ti­facts on dis­play in Hong Kong for an­niver­sary

Acol­lec­tion of pre­cious items from the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) is cur­rently on dis­play in Hong Kong. The items have never left Bei­jing be­fore, and have been made pub­lic only once at the Cap­i­tal Mu­seum last year.

The ar­ti­facts are from the Hall of Men­tal Cul­ti­va­tion in the For­bid­den City, China’s im­pe­rial palace from 1420 to 1911, now known as the Palace Mu­seum.

The on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, called the Hall of Men­tal Cul­ti­va­tion of The Palace Mu­seum: Im­pe­rial Res­i­dence of Eight Em­per­ors, which be­gan on June 29, is pre­sented by the Leisure and Cul­tural Ser­vices Depart­ment of the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion govern­ment and the Palace Mu­seum.

It is one of the key events mark­ing the 20th an­niver­sary of Hong Kong’s re­turn to China.

When vis­i­tors en­ter the ex­hi­bi­tion at the Hong Kong Her­itage Mu­seum, they see a space re­sem­bling the Hall of Men­tal Cul­ti­va­tion.

There, the ex­hibits, rang­ing from paint­ings and other art pieces to fur­ni­ture and plaques hang above the thrones in the hall.

Ar­ti­cles like im­pe­rial seals and sta­tionery are also on dis­play.

The Hall of Men­tal Cul­ti­va­tion was built in 1537 within the in­ner court of the For­bid­den City dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (13681644).

The hall was the res­i­dence of eight Qing rulers, start­ing with Em­peror Yongzheng (1722-35) and end­ing with Puyi (1906-67), who is best known in the West for the Os­car-win­ning bi­o­graphic film The Last Em­peror by Ital­ian mas­ter Bernardo Ber­tolucci.

The hall takes its name from a line in The Chap­ter of Ded­i­ca­tion by third-cen­tury (BC) Chi­nese philoso­pher Men­cius, which says: “Lead­ing a fru­gal life is the best way to cul­ti­vate the mind”.

The ex­hi­bi­tion por­trays the Cen­tral Hall where the em­per­ors re­ceived their min­is­ters, the East Warmth Cham­ber where the Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi at­tended to the af­fairs of state from be­hind a cur­tain, and the West Warmth Cham­ber, from which Em­peror Yongzheng worked.

“It (the hall) was not only a liv­ing room, but the em­per­ors’ ‘ home of­fice’,” says Tang Hing­sun, a cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion from Hong Kong Mu­seum of Art.

“Yongzheng fa­vored a sim­ple life and con­sid­ered him­self a pub­lic ser­vant,” Tang says.

Yongzheng moved from the big­ger Palace of Heav­enly Pu­rity to this hall, and he was said to han­dled more than 192,000 doc­u­ments dur­ing his time in the West Warmth Cham­ber.

“The hall was the cen­ter­stage of pol­i­tics dur­ing the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties,” says Tang.

Mean­while, mul­ti­me­dia has also been used to re-cre­ate the past, says Tang, point­ing out that the dif­fer­ent rulers’ per­son­al­i­ties are re­flected through the ex­hibits.

For in­stance, Em­peror Qian­long, who ruled from 1736 to 1796, was known for col­lect­ing ex­quis­ite art­works, and the vases and enamel ar­ti­cles on dis­play re­veal his pref­er­ence for flam­boy­ance.

Qian­long was keen on Ti­betan Bud­dhism, which is por­trayed through the stat­ues of the Bud­dha from his prayer room.

The Hall of Men­tal Cul­ti­va­tion also had a pri­vate study called the Room of Three Rar­i­ties, which is de­scribed by Tang as Qian­long’s own lit­tle cor­ner to ap­pre­ci­ate paint­ings and cal­lig­ra­phy.

The em­peror had three rare pieces of cal­lig­ra­phy in this room. A replica of this room is also at the ex­hi­bi­tion, and fea­tures 13 vases.

Tang says that the Hong Kong Mu­seum of Art also con­trib­uted some of its trea­sures, like a scroll, at­trib­uted to the Song Dy­nasty (960-1127).

Ac­cord­ing to Shan Jix­i­ang, the head of the Palace Mu­seum, vis­i­tors to the orig­i­nal Hall of Men­tal Cul­ti­va­tion are now able to have only a glimpse of its in­te­ri­ors through locked win­dows. But, the pub­lic will be al­lowed into the rooms in the future.

As part of the prepa­ra­tions, a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion project is now on and will be com­pleted by 2020.

The on­go­ing ren­o­va­tion means that cul­tural relics have been moved out of the hall. The ex­hibits in Hong Kong are part of the col­lec­tion.

In 2007, the 10 th an­niver­sary of Hong Kong’s re­turn to China, the Palace Mu­seum took its Along the River Dur­ing the Qing­ming Fes­ti­val land­scape paint­ing to the city for a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion called Pride of China.

“But this time, we want to show other trea­sures,” says Shan.

“We’d like to tell the em­per­ors’ sto­ries.”

Be­fore be­com­ing the abode of the em­per­ors, the Hall of Men­tal Cul­ti­va­tion was used for other pur­poses.

The Ming Em­peror Ji­a­jing, for in­stance, had his elixirs made there, and Em­peror Kangxi, fa­ther of Yongzheng, used it as a work­shop to pro­duce ar­ti­facts.

PARKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY

2 3 6 1 The ex­hi­bi­tion, HallofMen­talCul­ti­va­tionofthePalaceMu­seum:Im­pe­rial Res­i­dence­ofEightEm­per­ors, fea­tur­ing items rang­ing from paint­ings and other art pieces to fur­ni­ture, runs through Oct 15 at Hong Kong Her­itage Mu­seum. 4 5

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