Palace Museum clock repairman keeps history in time

By Wang Kaihao ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-02-02 07:35:41

Palace Museum clock repairman keeps history in time

Wang Jin repairs antique clocks at the Palace Museum, which houses 1,500-odd such royal treasures. Photos by Jiang Dong/China Daily

Wang Jin has been repairing antique timepieces at Beijing's Palace Museum for decades, in a job that keeps him close to some of the world's most unique collections. Wang Kaihao reports.

Perhaps, what 55-year-old Wang Jin deals with everyday are the liveliest exhibits housed in the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City.

Since the reign of Qianlong (1735-95), many made-in-Europe clocks (most of which came from the United Kingdom), were donated or ordered by China's royal families, whose interest in these exotic machines lasted until the final days of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

These royal treasures inevitably lost their luster due to old age. However, almost every clock which has passed through Wang's hands gets its shine back and ticks again.

However, despite the dazzling appearance of the treasures, his studio looks like a factory workshop from decades ago-gray and smelling of kerosene.

"The layout here is almost identical since I first came here," he says, staring at his 60-square-meter studio hidden in maze-like alley in a closed section of the museum. "Well, maybe we have some advanced lathes."

When Wang was young, he used to take care of his ailing grandfather, who was a longtime librarian at the Forbidden City, and this made him a familiar face to other museum staff. In 1977, when his grandfather passed away, he was allowed to take a job in the museum, though he had just graduated from junior high school.

He was assigned to the antique clock department. It took him about two years to hone his skills.

And now, his small department has developed some of the world's best antique clock repairing techniques.

Wang is not a talkative man who brags about his skills, but a recent popular three-episode TV documentary, Masters in the Forbidden City, shows this behind-the-scenes hero to the public again.

"What I do is not different," says Wang. "The basic work of clock repair in the palace is similar to what others do elsewhere.

"But it is almost impossible to be confronted with so many timepieces with such complications elsewhere. This makes everything different."

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