1% of the National Palace Museum
Today we visited the National Palace Museum, the 10th most visited Museum in the world and regarded as having the finest collection of Chinese antiquities. Only 1% of the National Palace Museum's treasures is on display, equating to over 700,000 objects! The remaining 63 million are hidden away in a secret location.
You may be wondering how come so many Chinese artefacts are in Taiwan? This is quite a story. It took 14 years for the treasure to be moved out of Beijing’s Forbidden City to finally reach Taiwan after a harrowing 75,000km journey. The move was to ensure the valuables were in safekeeping from the clutches of the Japanese.
What amazed us was the artefacts were in pristine condition. I didn’t see one crack or chip. The elaborate packaging process involving layers of wet paper, hemp rope and cotton padding certainly worked.
After the Sino-Japanese War and World War II were over, Chinese Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists resumed, and the nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek brought even more important treasure to Taiwan.
After a train and bus ride, we walked straight into the Museum, unlike tourists a year ago who would have had to queue for at least an hour. Interestingly, I have read that in the past, you were not allowed to take photos. Well, as you can see, we took quite a few, and this is perhaps a little more than 1% of our total!
I won’t describe every item here; you’ll be relieved to know, just a few key ones. The first we saw was the Jadeite Cabbage, one of the most popular pieces in the collection. It is incredible how the craftsman has used the natural colours of the jadeite to create the vegetable, and if you look closely, at the top, he has carved a locust and a bush cricket.
In the bottom left, there is a Wine Vessel of Zhao which is over 3,000 years old. It has carvings of creatures with bulging eyes and fine swirling thunder cloud patterns. An inscription on the lid refers to the Duke of Zhao, a notable politician. Also, there are numbers connected with “The Book of Changes”. These mean “Self-restrain to avoid misunderstandings” – in other words, restrain from drinking too much!
In the same part of the Museum, we saw a set of Zi-fan chimes. These were purchased for the Museum in 1994. Each of the bells has part of an inscription. When put together, this describes that Hu Yan helped his nephew Prince Chong-Er (696 – 628 BC) to reclaim the throne after 19 years in exile. So these bells not only are a set of harmonic musical instruments, but they also have historical value.
One especially lovely item is the Recumbent Child. What do you think the white porcelain child is used for? It’s a pillow, and extremely rare as only three like this are known to exist.
It was produced in the Ding kilns, famed for their pure porcelain in the 12th century. At that time, people believed that images of young children were auspicious symbols for good fortune and a long line of descendants.
What do you think the top right object looks like? It is made from banded jasper and looks just like a piece of pork, with fatty layers of meat. How clever to use the rich natural resources of the Stone and carve and stain it, making the Meat-shaped Stone look so realistic.
The photo underneath the Stone is a round object which inside has at least 17 nested concentric Ivory Balls that can all move. And the delicate carvings of mountain and water landscape is exquisite and are often referred to as “the work of celestial beings”.
I noticed that there were quite a few containers in the shape of the Lotus flower. This flower is significant in the Chinese culture as a symbol of purity, enlightenment and rebirth. The flower rises from the mud into a picture of perfection, representing Buddha. The top left object is unusual as this is an autumnal lotus leaf made from Jade and used to rinse out a writing brush “Máobǐ” (one of the few Chinese words I have learnt!)
The Museum was very well laid out; if I had realised at the start, we could have followed a Visitor Trail, which may have been fun looking out for the items, a bit like a treasure hunt. We did our own thing, took our time and, for once, cherry-picked what we wanted to see.
One thing to note, if you do ever visit the National Palace Museum, bring a shirt or cardigan to wear. It might be 38 degrees outside, but the air conditioning here is extremely efficient, and it was quite cold.
We have been to quite a few museums on our GrownUpTravels, and we do think this was one of the best. It was well laid out and relaxing; it certainly didn’t seem that there was 700,000 objets d’art to see. Mind you, over 4 million people walk through the door each year, so my calculation says that nearly 13,000 visitors come each day usually. We must have only seen 1% of that number!