China / Life

Deer at Palace Museum add life to ongoing artifact show

By Wang Kaihao (China Daily) Updated: 2017-09-28 07:23

The Palace Museum has a zoo, at least for now. Nine sika deer were recently ushered into the Cining Gong (the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility) Garden of the museum in Beijing.

After months of training, the herd, which comprises two males, five females and two cubs, seem unafraid in front of curious visitors' cameras and keep changing their poses.

Their debut is part of an exhibition on deer-related cultural relics, which opened at the Yongshou Gong, or Palace of Eternal Longevity, on Tuesday.

The Eternal Abundance from Heaven: Auspicious Deer Artifacts at the Palace Museum features 69 artifacts from the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties' royal collections.

According to Wang Zilin, curator of the exhibition, the exhibits comprise porcelain, cloisonne enamel, furniture and paintings.

"There are many cultural relics on the deer in our warehouse," he says. "But due to the limitations of space, we can only showcase the most delicate ones."

In Chinese, lu (deer) shares the pronunciation of the character, which means "high status" and "official salary", and is thus a connotation of good fortune in Chinese culture.

The curator says a chair made of 20-odd pairs of deer antlers from the reign of Qianlong (1736-96) reveals state-of-the-art craftsmanship.

Deer patterns are also seen on the displayed sculptures, costumes and other artworks or as decorative components on vases.

"The deer is a common topic in Qing emperors' poems," Wang adds.

The nine deer guests in the Palace Museum are from Chengde Mountain Resort in Hebei province.

With the Forbidden City, the resort was also a political center of the Qing Dynasty, and was where several emperors spent their summers.

According to Liu Zilong, head of the administration office of Chengde Mountain Resort, hunting used to be a tradition among the Manchu rulers of the dynasty to remember their nomadic origins.

In early fall, the Qing emperors led hundreds of attendants to hunt in Mulan Weichang, a grassland area in Chengde.

"Deer-hunting in the early morning was a key part," says Liu. "It was also a way for the Qing rulers to enforce military discipline."

The ritual became a routine during the reign of Qianlong and his son Emperor Jiaqing.

The Chengde Mountain Resort has had wild sika deer since imperial times.

And though the nine deer have been tamed, Liu says that feeding them is not allowed in the Forbidden City to ensure their safety.

Wang Yamin, a deputy director at the Palace Museum, says: "There was a long tradition raising deer in imperial China."

He says that the Forbidden City also had a deer garden in the Qing era.

The nine deer are scheduled to be in the Cining Gong Garden until the end of the exhibition in February 2018.

As for the future, no plans have been made, but the fact that they are there reflects a new view in the museum about cultural relics and living creatures, says Wang. "It's a better way to bring cultural relics closer to the people."

Last year, when two cultural relic exhibitions, respectively, on the peony and the chrysanthemum, were held at the Palace Museum, real flowers were brought into the facility.

Hot Topics