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Project leader relishes unique opportunity

By Luo Weiteng in Hong Kong | | Updated: 2021-06-18 14:41
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People intently examine the original piece of the Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 2007. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

For Louis Ng Chi-wa, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be at the helm of the city's high-profile cultural project — the Hong Kong Palace Museum.

Ng, who had been deputy director of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department since 2014, was appointed the museum's director by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in 2019.

In his new post, Ng is fully involved in the planning of the mega collaborative project that will feature Chinese art and cultural artifacts from the imperial collections of the 600-year-old Forbidden City — the residence of emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that houses more than 1.8 million historical works of art — and Chinese and international exhibits from other leading institutions.

Ng's close working relationship with the Palace Museum in Beijing dates back to 2007, when he was in charge of the planning, management and hosting of several Forbidden City-related exhibitions in Hong Kong.

"The most unforgettable exhibition was in 2007, when the original masterpiece of the Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival was displayed in Hong Kong for the first time to mark the 10th anniversary of the handover," recalled Ng, who still remembered the great efforts made to have the classic Chinese scroll painting from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by imperial artist Zhang Zeduan exhibited in the city.

Three years later, the huge animated version of the national treasure — 30 times its original size, which was shown at the China Pavilion of World Expo 2010 Shanghai China — made its way to Hong Kong. The three-week-long exhibition attracted nearly 1 million viewers. "Many of the viewers were just reluctant to leave," said Ng.

The exhibition's success testified to the sheer power of technology to connect the public with time-tested heritage in a more engaged way, he said. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced artists and curators to adapt to the digital age, the smart use of multimedia technology will be the focus of future exhibitions at the Hong Kong Palace Museum.

Although the museum has not revealed details of its opening exhibitions yet, the appearance of images on its website, including China's oldest surviving paper painting, Five Oxen, traditionally attributed to Tang Dynasty (618-907) politician and painter Han Huang, has fueled hopes that some "treasure of treasures" could be sent to Hong Kong.

"I can only tell you that 20 percent of the 880 national treasures to be displayed at the initial exhibitions will be rare Grade I objects," said Ng.

State restrictions on lending artifacts to museums outside the Chinese mainland have to be loosened so that rare exhibits from Beijing can stay in Hong Kong longer. But for conservation and security reasons, some of them can only be displayed once and have to be shipped back to Beijing for storage for at least three years, according to Ng. Others may be allowed to be displayed in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from six months to two years.

The list of artifacts on loan from Beijing's Palace Museum still requires the approval of the authorities there, but it might be ready by September.

Having spent almost two years discussing the list with the team of Beijing's Palace Museum, Ng said what needs to be seriously considered is not the grade of the artifacts, but how to give a new contemporary interpretation of Chinese culture in a way that is related to Hong Kong residents.

The Hong Kong Palace Museum does not intend to be a branch or replica of Beijing's Palace Museum, he pointed out. It aims to become one of the world's best museums.

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