CITY GUIDE >Culture and Events
Sharing treasures
By Zhu Linyong (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-13 10:48

Sharing treasures

A visitor looks at a vase on display at the first joint show held in Taipei by China's two leading museums.[Agencies]

For the first time in 60 years, treasures from the Palace Museum in Beijing have been sent to Taipei for a large-scale exhibition about Qing Dynasty Emperor Yongzheng (1678-1735).

The exhibition Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Time opened on Oct 7 at the Palace Museum in Taipei. It was the result of cooperation between museum directors Zheng Xinmiao from the mainland and Chou Kung-shin from Taiwan.

Scheduled to run until Jan 10, 2010, the first formal cooperative show by the Palace Museums in 60 years presents 246 sets of carefully selected exhibits.

Divided into two parts - The Life and Times of the Yongzheng Emperor and Arts and Culture in the Yongzheng Era - the colossal exhibition features a rich variety of artifacts and cultural relics. On show are Qing Dynasty archives, historical books, vintage maps, portraits of ladies of the court and of Yongzheng, ink paintings, Chinese calligraphy, ink stones, porcelain and lacquer works, agate carvings and enamelware.

Among the exhibits, 37 historical and cultural artifacts portraying Emperor Yongzheng are on loan from its mainland counterpart in Beijing, plus two ancient vases from the Shanghai Museum, organizers say.

The show is intended to provide viewers in Taiwan with a complete narrative of Yongzheng's life, administration and achievements in art and culture. It also includes a video produced by Palace Museum in Beijing about the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin Dian), once served as Yongzheng's bedroom and study. A multimedia display prepared by Palace Museum in Taipei presents the origins of some widely circulated legends about the emperor.

"People are curious about why we've prepared this exhibition," Chou says.

"The answer is that we want to depict a different image of the legendary emperor."

The Qing emperor, who was posthumously given the temple name Shizong, is better known by his reigning name, Yongzheng.

After ascending the throne at age 45, he ruled for 13 years until 1735. He was the third ruler after the Manchu overthrew the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

For centuries, countless myths about Yongzheng have been spread through novels, TV drama series, biographies and scholarly research. These stories continue to fascinate people.

But the emperor was often - if not always - portrayed as a ruthless, power-hungry tyrant, who killed many innocent people, including his family members, Chou explains.

She believes Yongzheng was a diligent, courageous and innovative feudal ruler who dealt out severe punishments for corruption and laid a solid foundation for the Qing Dynasty's later prosperity.

"So, we let the artifacts and cultural relics speak for the emperor and hope to give him his due place in history," Chou says.

Chou hailed the joint exhibition as a "hallmark" in the history of cross-Straits cultural exchanges.

The Palace Museum was inaugurated in 1921 at the Forbidden City in central Beijing.

Sharing treasures

In 1921, China's last emperor, Pu Yi, was expelled from the Forbidden City by warlord Feng Yuxiang.

The government subsequently formed the Committee for the Disposition of the Qing Imperial Possessions. It took a comprehensive inventory of the items in the palace, which largely comprised the former Imperial family's valuables.

At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1948-49, a large portion of the museum's royal collection was brought to Taiwan.

Director Chou says the joint exhibition was only possible after her "ice-breaking" visit to the Palace Museum in Beijing in February - the first of its kind in six decades - and a reciprocal visit in March by Beijing's Palace Museum's director Zheng Xinmiao.

The Taipei Palace Museum proposed an exhibition of relics from its Beijing counterpart last year. The request received a swift affirmative from the Beijing side.

"Taipei suggested the loan, and surely, Beijing's Palace Museum was the best partner," says the Beijing establishment's deputy curator Li Ji, who hosted the crate-sealing and shipping ceremony of the 37 artifacts on Sept 22.

"A generally agreeable environment across the Straits enabled a swift signing of the agreement."

The mainland and Taiwan inked a nine-point agreement for cross-Straits cooperation in March. It included the exchange of publications, copyrighted videos, Web links and personnel visits. In addition, it called for a joint exhibition and an academic seminar about Yongzheng. The seminar was held in Taipei from Oct 4 to Oct 6.

The exhibition "can be seen as a new beginning for further exchanges between the two museums", Beijing's Palace Museum director Zheng says.

"The two establishments share the same origin for the collections, which are highly complementary to each other. We will surely seek more cooperative opportunities in the future."

Chou says the Palace Museum in Taipei hopes to borrow more items from its Beijing counterpart, and an exhibition, to open next year, is being discussed.

But the Taipei museum has long been reluctant to lend its Beijing counterpart artifacts for fear they wouldn't be returned.

"They've requested we loan them some items but we need legal protection," Chou says.

The two sides have yet to ink a deal in which Beijing's museum recognizes the Taipei museum's ownership of its collection and promises to return borrowed items, some experts from Taiwan say.

Currently, people must travel across the Straits to see the collections - making Taipei's museum a must-see attraction for mainland tourists and its Beijing counterpart a key destination for visitors from Taiwan.

"It would be a dream for many Chinese to see the items stored in Taiwan exhibited on the mainland," BBC quoted Li Peisong, deputy director of the Beijing museum's cultural relic protection department, as saying.

"It's not just the dream of Beijing's Palace Museum curators but of all mainlanders. After all, only a small number of people can afford to travel to Taiwan to see them.

"Only then can both sides enjoy China's valuable cultural treasures and understand Chinese culture."