If you really want to get a sense of China's imperial and cultural history, there was no better destination than the Taiwanese capital. The collection's oldest pieces—chunky jewelry made of jade—date back over 8,000 years.
There are elegant pottery statues of court ladies from the Tang dynasty, a tiny boat carved from an olive stone—it's even difficult to make out the details from a magnifying glass. And one of the museum's most celebrated pieces—a cabbage chiseled from jadeite—uses the natural colors of the stone to create the vegetable.
Ceramics too are exquisite like classic blue and white designs from the Ming dynasty, ostentatious Qing vases, or rare jun porcelain from the 11th century of which only 70 pieces are known to exist in the world—nearly half of them are here.
There are a lot of big museums in the world, such as, you know, the British Museum and the Louvre or the Metropolitan. And then they have it, you know, in terms of Chinese collection. And this is the best. And this is the most comprehensive. So, yeah, I will see. You know, if you see Chinese culture and Chinese art, this is the best place.
If it is puzzling why so many of China's treasures are here on this island, you need to look back 60 years. During the height of the civil war in the 1940s, Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists retreated to the island of Taiwan, leaving Mao's communists to the mainland. With them they carried a large and important portion of the imperial collection from Beijing's Forbidden City.
And while the nationalists think they saved China's art treasures by bringing them to Taiwan, some on the mainland consider the act theft. That split has continued for six decades.
But now a new exhibition has brought together pieces from Beijing and Taipei under one roof, here at the National Palace Museum. The exhibition is focusing on Emperor Yongzheng, who reigned in the early 18th century during the Qing dynasty. On show are painted enamel vases, epistles to and from the emperor, and lacquerware, Beijing has contributed nearly a fifth of the exhibits.
The loan from Beijing's Palace Museum will make the exhibition more complete. For example, the National Palace Museum in Taiwan doesn't have portraits of Emperor Yongzheng. This is the first time the two museums have collaborated on an exhibition. In Taiwan, Mainland China, and in the Chinese-speaking world, this is a very important affair.
For now, loans will only be one-way. Taipei says there are obstacles to sending artifacts in the other direction. Firstly, they worry whether the prospective loans will ever be returned. Secondly, Beijing rejects the word national in the Taiwanese museum's name.
But openness is increasing between the two sides, including in the movement of tourists. Until last year, Chinese from the mainland were not allowed to visit Taiwan. But after that policy's changed, thousands are coming every day. And the National Palace Museum is benefiting from the boost in numbers.
This exhibition will also help raise awareness of the National Palace Museum's permanent collection. Internationally it is still not well-known outside of East Asia, but it can now assert to hosting one of the most groundbreaking exhibitions of the year, called Harmony and Integrity: the Yongzheng Emperor and his Times and it'll run until January 10, 2010.
- 「追溯、回溯」- Date Back
The collection's oldest pieces—chunky jewelry made of jade—date back over 8,000 years.
- 「辨認、理解」- Make Out
...a tiny boat carved from an olive stone—it's even difficult to make out the details from a magnifying glass.
- 「回顧」- Look Back
If it is puzzling why so many of China's treasures are here on this island, you need to look back 60 years.
- 「集結、集合」- Bring Together
But now a new exhibition has brought together pieces from Beijing and Taipei under one roof, here at the National Palace Museum.
- 「目前、暫時」- For Now
For now, loans will only be one-way. Taipei says there are obstacles to sending artifacts in the other direction.