Hong Kong Palace Museum: Beijing’s Forbidden City treasures find new $450M home

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Written by Stephy Chung, CNNKristie Lu Stout, CNNHong Kong

Beijing’s Palace Museum, situated within the coronary heart of the Forbidden Metropolis, accommodates the world’s largest assortment of Chinese language artwork, spanning practically 5,000 years of historical past. Now, greater than 900 of these treasures are on show on the new Hong Kong Palace Museum — a “present” from the central authorities to coincide with the twenty fifth anniversary of the town’s handover from British to Chinese language rule.

Whereas there’s nothing overtly political inside its assortment — by trendy requirements, at the very least — the museum sparked controversy when it was first introduced by Hong Kong’s outgoing chief Carrie Lam in late 2016, partly as a result of obvious lack of public session earlier than the undertaking was green-lit.

The Palace Museum’s long-term mortgage, which includes uncommon work, calligraphic works, ceramics, jade and extra from its 1.8 million-strong assortment, is “unprecedented at each degree,” says the Hong Kong museum’s chairman Bernard Chan.

“That is the primary time ever that giant portions of those nationwide treasures are being taken out … to a different cultural establishment, so you possibly can think about the complexity behind it,” he provides, citing challenges round transportation, safety and insurance coverage, the latter of which took a conglomerate of round 100 insurance coverage corporations from around the globe to resolve.

The red-studded doors at the museum's entrance. Construction of the building was funded by a $3.5 billion HKD ($450 million) donation by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The red-studded doorways on the museum’s entrance. Development of the constructing was funded by a $3.5 billion HKD ($450 million) donation by the Hong Kong Jockey Membership. Credit score: Hong Kong Palace Museum

Curating exhibitions within the midst of a pandemic additionally proved difficult — as did an accelerated timeline guaranteeing that the museum opened in time for this week’s anniversary.

“Once I was a curator in america, I spent three years engaged on one exhibition. Now I’ve three years to work on 9 exhibitions,” says deputy director Daisy Wang Yiyou, referring to the museum’s formidable opening program.

The gorgeous artifacts, 166 of that are thought of “grade-one nationwide treasures,” function in thematic reveals, together with one exploring features of imperial life within the Forbidden Metropolis and one other centered on revolutionary design and manufacturing methods. Elsewhere, an exhibition of artwork impressed by horses juxtaposes works from the Forbidden Metropolis with items on mortgage from the Louvre in Paris. Among the objects have by no means been seen in public earlier than, together with two not too long ago restored sketches of empresses.

A glass vase, which looks surprisingly contemporary with its spiral pattern, showcases innovative techniques used during the Qing dynasty.

A glass vase, which appears surprisingly modern with its spiral sample, showcases revolutionary methods used throughout the Qing dynasty. Credit score: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Pictures

Wang expects the “blockbuster” attraction to be the museum’s rotating exhibition of Chinese language work and calligraphy from the Jin, Tang, Tune and Yuan dynasties.

“(These works) are extraordinarily fragile and intensely uncommon, so after 30 days in Hong Kong, they’re going to be escorted again to the Forbidden Metropolis storage… (to) relaxation for a number of years,” she explains.

166 artifacts of the loan are considered national treasures including this one, "Ten Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains," a 12th century ink-on-paper work by Zhao Fu.

166 artifacts of the mortgage are thought of nationwide treasures together with this one, “Ten Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains,” a twelfth century ink-on-paper work by Zhao Fu. Credit score: The Palace Museum

Metropolis’s altering surroundings for artwork

With 84,000 sq. toes of gallery area and a contemporary design nodding to the Forbidden Metropolis’s well-known structure, the museum has taken simply 5 years to appreciate. Neighboring establishments just like the M+ museum for modern visible tradition, which additionally overlooks Victoria Harbour from the West Kowloon Cultural District, took nearly twice as lengthy.
One of the museum's nine galleries focuses on the history of Chinese ceramics, particularly imperial porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

One of many museum’s 9 galleries focuses on the historical past of Chinese language ceramics, notably imperial porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Credit score: Hong Kong Palace Museum

The Hong Kong Palace Museum was not a part of preliminary plans for the sprawling arts district, which sits on a patch of reclaimed land and has been in growth for the reason that early 2000s. Lam’s surprising unveiling of plans in December 2016 was seen by some critics as a way to curry political favor with China’s central authorities (she had Hong Kong’s second highest job on the time). Others alleged that Beijing had utilized strain to approve the museum.

Lam rejected allegations that the undertaking was going forward for political causes.

“I do know that our society in the present day is filled with any such distrust. However for this undertaking, we actually will not be motivated by self-interest,” she mentioned in 2017. “We actually simply hope to construct a Hong Kong Palace Museum, for Hong Kong, that we are able to all be happy with.”

The museum’s announcement was nonetheless “a shock to everybody, together with myself,” remembers Chan. “No one knew about it,” he says. “However you possibly can think about why it was stored kind of a secret. That dialogue is at a really excessive degree.”

A festive robe from the Qianlong period (1736 to 1795) is displayed during a media preview of the Hong Kong Palace Museum in Hong Kong on June 22, 2022.

A festive gown from the Qianlong interval (1736 to 1795) is displayed throughout a media preview of the Hong Kong Palace Museum in Hong Kong on June 22, 2022. Credit score: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Pictures

Although the extent of Beijing’s function stays unknown, the $450-million museum is in line with Chinese language President Xi Jinping’s imaginative and prescient of the “Chinese language Dream,” or “the good rejuvenation of the Chinese language nation,” which sees China’s financial future and worldwide affect intertwined with the glories of the nation’s previous. Xi has spoken on a number of events about artists’ function in selling patriotism and spreading Chinese language and “socialist core” values. Conventional Chinese language tradition, in his imaginative and prescient, ought to be seen as a supply of inspiration for present-day literary and creative innovation.

Throughout a three-day go to to Hong Kong to mark the twentieth anniversary of the handover in 2017, Xi attended a signing ceremony on the museum, saying he hoped Hong Kong might promote conventional Chinese language tradition and exchanges between China and the West.
The Hong Kong Palace Museum, designed by Rocco Design Architects Associates, is situated in the West Kowloon Cultural District overlooking Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong is positioning itself as an East-meets-West cultural hub with the development of new arts spaces in the district.

The Hong Kong Palace Museum, designed by Rocco Design Architects Associates, is located within the West Kowloon Cultural District overlooking Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong is positioning itself as an East-meets-West cultural hub with the event of latest arts areas within the district. Credit score: ROCCO Design Associates Architects Restricted

However the museum in the present day opens in a starkly totally different Hong Kong. Beijing’s push for comfortable energy comes at a time when freedom of expression is being curtailed following mass pro-democracy protests and the sweeping Nationwide Safety Regulation that successfully introduced them to a halt in 2020.

Artwork within the metropolis has additionally been beneath menace, with politically delicate works apparently censored and artists getting into self-imposed exile. A number of high-profile artworks addressing the Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath, together with the famend “Pillar of Shame”, have been taken down in Hong Kong, which was as soon as the one place on Chinese language soil the place individuals might freely commemorate victims of the bloody crackdown. Earlier this yr, the portray “New Beijing”, a thinly-veiled allusion to the loss of life of pro-democracy protesters on the 1989 bloodbath, was removed from show at M+, although the museum mentioned it was a part of routine rotation plans associated to “art work situation and conservation wants.”

Shared histories

Although the most recent mortgage is a primary, by way of measurement, the Hong Kong Palace Museum will not be the one place the place the Forbidden Metropolis’s treasures are exhibited. In Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, most of the imperial palace’s most precious treasures are presently housed on the Nationwide Palace Museum in Taipei.

Over 600,000 objects from the Forbidden Metropolis have been taken to the island by retreating nationalist forces within the Nineteen Forties. With tensions between Beijing and Taipei at an all-time excessive, the museum is planning a drill for evacuating artifacts, ought to a conflict get away.

“I hope that someday there may be an precise collaboration between the three museums, as a result of we’re all showcasing Chinese language civilization,” says Chan, expressing hope that the town’s new museum and its trove of treasures can transcend politics.

“The place does Chinese language civilization come from? And the way is Chinese language civilization linked with different civilizations? As a result of we’re not alone, proper? I believe that is necessary, particularly at a time when the world is so polarized and divided.”

A portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor in court attire.

A portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor in court docket apparel. Credit score: The Palace Museum

For Hong Kong residents, in the meantime, the museum is a sizzling summer time vacation spot, with 100,000 tickets already bought for July. In addition to providing a chance to see the well-known objects up shut, the museum’s job is to make their tales related to native audiences, Wang says.

“It does not matter in case you are a historian or a driver,” she says. “You (can) relate to those fantastical treasures, and the tales we inform. You may be moved emotionally by the objects.”

Watch the video above for an inside look into the Hong Kong Palace Museum.

CNN’s Kevin Broad, Momo Moussa, Tom Sales space, Dan Hodge and Ziyu Zhang contributed to this report.

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