Splendid Treasures: A Hundred Masterpieces of the National Palace Museum on Parade


The overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 set the stage for the formal establishment of the Republic of China in the following year. Based on the principles of democracy, the possessions acquired by the imperial family were returned to the public to be shared by all. In the first year of the Republic, 1912, the Museum of History was established at the Directorate of Education. Two years later, objects at the temporary palaces in Shengjing and Jehol in Liaoning were gathered to form the Institute for Exhibiting Antiquities. And after the abdicated emperor family left the palace in 1924, an inventory of the collection in the Forbidden City was finally conducted. In the following year on October 10, National Day, the Palace Museum was founded and opened to the public for viewing. What followed was the development of its functions as a public museum devoted to the exhibition, research, collection, education, and promotion of its holdings. To avoid the flames of war, however, the cream of the collection several times was crated and transported to safety. In 1965, the Central Museum (with its objects mostly from the Institute for Exhibiting Antiquities) and the Museum of History along with the Palace Museum (with their holdings for the most part from the Forbidden City) were brought together to form the National Palace Museum in the Taipei suburb of Waishuangxi, creating a treasury and bastion of Chinese art and culture famous the world over.


As such, the collection of the National Palace Museum principally derives from the Qing dynasty court. The holdings inherited from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasty courts can be summed up as a "national treasure." In other words, these objects form a national treasury passed down through the ages. Along with new acquisitions in the form of donations and purchases since the founding of the Republic, the National Palace Museum now features a staggering collection of more than 680,000 objects. In addition to treasures of antiquities, painting and calligraphy, and rare books spanning 8,000 years of Chinese culture, the collection also features the essence of arts and crafts supervised by the Qing court along with its wealth of archival materials. Since the Museum opened in Taipei, comprehensive and special permanent exhibitions have been complemented by publications, lectures, and symposia, providing audiences with not only a feast for the eyes but also first-hand historical materials for research, thereby continuously promoting the collection as a source for creativity in modern life.

Over the past century, archaeological discoveries have revealed the pluralistic face of ancient Chinese civilization. Around the world, various public and private collections along with historical materials continue to be made available to all, with the holdings of the National Palace Museum becoming increasingly cherished for its value. For example, in a tradition that emphasizes rites and antiquity, the Museum's collection of a long segmented jade cong tube from the Liangzhu Culture and a meticulously carved jade gui tablet of the Longshan Culture, both from the Neolithic Age, testify to the spiritual content and technical achievements of remote antiquity. Although it was a period the Qing emperors could not fully understand, their inscriptions on these works still clearly echo with an artistic aesthetic that has spanned time and space. Another example is collectanea of the Ming and Qing dynasties that required enormous expenditures of national resources and labor to compile, including the Yongle Encyclopedia, Tibetan Dragon Sutra, and Complete Library of the Four Treasuries. Transcribing and collating to preserve the classics can be called an important feat in the history of humanity as well. As for the history of painting and calligraphy, the masterpieces of such groundbreaking artists as Wang Xizhi, Sun Guoting, Yan Zhenqing, Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang reveal a masterful wielding of brush and ink. Illuminating the hills and valleys of the mind, they continued the joint artistic tradition within Chinese culture. And emperors over the dynasties also supervised craftsmen, resulting in the production of various renowned works, such as official porcelains of the Song dynasty; lacquerware of the Yongle period and doucai porcelains of the Chenghua era in the Ming dynasty; and falangcai enamelware and Songhua inkstones of the Qing court. All of these brought out the finest achievements in arts and crafts at the time they were produced. And exquisite carvings, such as the jadeite cabbage and olive-pit boat in the Museum collection, continue to win the admiration of and become part of the eternal collective memory of visitors.

The history of the National Palace Museum is intricately related to that of the Republic of China. On this occasion of the country's centennial celebrations, the Museum has gathered and presented a special selection of a hundred objects noted for their historic significance, importance, rarity, artistry, and popularity. In doing so, they illustrate a continuous heritage of art and culture as well as their multiple facets, also offering by extension blessings for the continued prosperity and good fortune of the nation.

Source: National Palace Museum