Grand dis­play

Ex­hibit of­fers fresh in­sights into Manchu royal life dur­ing Qing Dy­nasty

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at fan­gaiqing@chi­

Anew ex­hi­bi­tion at Bei­jing’s Cap­i­tal Mu­seum of­fers visi­tors a glimpse into royal life­style dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911).

The more than 130 an­tiques on show are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the rich aes­thet­ics at the time. With a com­bi­na­tion of prac­ti­cal­ity and artistry, they demon­strate the de­vel­op­ment of crafts­man­ship dur­ing the mid­dle Qing pe­riod.

One of the key ex­hibits is a yel­low bro­cade changfu robe, em­bla­zoned with dragons and clouds, that used to be­long to Hong Taiji, one of the founders of the dy­nasty. It is the first time that the robe has been ex­hib­ited to the pub­lic.

Changfu was a type of Manchu gar­ment, typ­i­cal of the Qing era. Em­per­ors, em­presses and con­cu­bines usu­ally dressed in changfu for fes­ti­vals, cel­e­bra­tions and sac­ri­fi­cial rites.

The em­per­ors also wore changfu to at­tend jingyan, lec­tures specif­i­cally held for them to study his­tor­i­cal clas­sics and im­prove their cul­tural lit­er­acy.

Ac­cord­ing to Tian Xinyou, the ex­hi­bi­tion’s cu­ra­tor, the changfu robe on dis­play was in the tra­di­tional cos­tume style of Manchu and since it was used be­fore the dy­nasty moved to Bei­jing, its de­sign had not yet been in­flu­enced by Han cul­ture.

The cuffs of the robe have a horse­shoe-shaped de­sign. Usu­ally, the cuffs were turned up so that it was eas­ier for Hong Taiji, the first em­peror of the Qing Dy­nasty, to move and work, as one ex­hibit sug­gests. On cold days, how­ever, the cuffs could be turned down to cover the back of his hands to keep warm.

Such a de­sign com­plied with the com­pul­sion of the Manchu to spend much of their time prac­tic­ing archery and rid­ing horses.

There are also a num­ber of portraits on dis­play, and that love of rid­ing is ev­i­dent in one that de­picts Em­peror Qian­long (1711-1799) on horse­back.

There are also a num­ber of house­hold uten­sils on dis­play, es­pe­cially those used for din­ner, such as a sil­ver hot­pot dec­o­rated with gold-plated pat­terns of the Chi­nese char­ac­ter shou (longevity), as well as a black lac­quer plate adorned with gold-out­lined pat­terns of two Chi­nese land­scape paint­ings.

There is also a small re­frig­er­a­tor on show. With­out elec­tric­ity, the roy­als of the Qing Dy­nasty used to use ice cubes to pre­serve food and fruits. The frame of the re­frig­er­a­tor on dis­play is made of cloi­sonne enamel that is dec­o­rated with hol­lowed-out, gilded flower pat­terns on the four sides, while the han­dles are sculpted to look like lions with rings in their mouths. The mid­dle of its wooden cover is em­bossed with a gold lac­quer dragon.

The uten­sils were de­signed to add to the plea­sure of the food, but more­over, they played an im­por­tant role in dis­tin­guish­ing rank and prac­tic­ing eti­quette.

Em­per­ors of the Qing Dy­nasty used to at­tach great im­por­tance to the study of Han cul­ture. As well as cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings pro­duced by both the em­per­ors Kangxi and Qian­long, the ex­hi­bi­tion recre­ates a typ­i­cal Qing em­peror’s study and that of a royal liv­ing room, in or­der to pro­vide visi­tors to the ex­hi­bi­tion with a re­al­is­tic ex­am­ple of how the roy­als en­joyed their sur­round­ings.

Items, in­clud­ing jew­elry boxes, fans and mir­rors, which be­longed to the con­cu­bines present a del­i­cate and el­e­gant touch. Sev­eral small pow­der cases demon­strate the high level of crafts­man­ship in glass­mak­ing at the time.

All of the ex­hibits on dis­play, in­clud­ing cos­tumes, ac­ces­sories, uten­sils and fur­nish­ings, as well as works of cal­lig­ra­phy and art, are usu­ally housed at the Shenyang Palace Mu­seum in North­east China’s Liaoning prov­ince. They were moved there from Bei­jing in the 1950s.

The Shenyang Palace Mu­seum, also called the Muk­den Palace, was built in 1625. It was once the for­mal res­i­dence of Qing Dy­nasty founder Nurhaci and his son Hong Taiji, be­fore the dy­nasty moved to Bei­jing in 1644.

Since then, Shenyang — named Muk­den (Shengjing) at the time — had served as the al­ter­nate na­tional cap­i­tal. Be­tween 1671 and 1829, the em­per­ors Kangxi, Qian­long, Ji­aqing and Daoguang made 10 vis­its to Shenyang and each spent a short time liv­ing there to wor­ship their an­ces­tors.

Em­peror Qian­long paid four vis­its to Shenyang, not only launch­ing ren­o­va­tions and ex­pan­sion of the palace, but also stor­ing a large num­ber of trea­sures there.

Af­ter the fall of the Qing Dy­nasty in 1911, many of the trea­sures housed at Muk­den Palace were lost. How­ever, the num­ber of an­tiques in its col­lec­tion has since in­creased from sev­eral thou­sand pieces in the early 1950s to more than 100,000 pieces.

Han Zhan­ming, direc­tor of the Cap­i­tal Mu­seum, says the ex­hibits are in­ter­twined with the his­tory of the Muk­den Palace and, to some ex­tent, demon­strate the life, eti­quette, cul­tural be­liefs and eth­nic fea­tures of the Qing era.

Tian hopes that the ex­hi­bi­tion will raise peo­ple’s aware­ness of the Shenyang Palace Mu­seum.

“The ar­chi­tec­tural style of the Muk­den Palace is an im­por­tant part of the his­tory and cul­ture of the Qing Dy­nasty be­fore it moved to Bei­jing,” she adds.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, From Shengjing: House­hold Items of the Qing Royal Court, will run through Dec 2.


Top and top right: Visi­tors at an ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing royal house­hold items of Qing Dy­nasty at Bei­jing’s Cap­i­tal Mu­seum. Above Left: A small re­frig­er­a­tor made of cloi­sonne enamel, wood and gold lac­quer used by the Qing roy­als. Above Right: Famille rose porce­lain ket­tles made dur­ing the reigns of em­per­ors Ji­aqing (left) and Daoguang (right).

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