How the National Palace Museum, Taipei (國立故宮博物) , was set up in Taiwan has an amazing story behind. After the expulsion of Puyi, the last emperor of China from the Forbidden City in Beijing, for the first time, the Forbidden City was made accessible to the public. It was set up as a museum on 10th October 1925, for the public to come in and view the treasure collection from the past emperors.
When the Japanese invaded northern China in 1931, 7287 crates of artifacts were boxed and shipped out from Beijing in different directions. As the Japanese made their way further in to inland China, the treasures also travelled further inland eventually reaching Sichuan. Imagine what a huge task it was 81 years ago, moving 7000 crates 1800km away from Beijing ! After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the artifacts made their move again back to Nanjing.
The journey did not stop in Nanjing. Internal civil war still carried on between Kuomintang and the communists. In order to prevent the cultural artifacts from being destroyed, 2972 crates of cultural artifacts were evacuated from Nanjing, and shipped to Taiwan in 1948. Although only representing 22% from the original collection, these artifacts were carefully selected and represent the most priced pieces among the collection.
The National Palace Museum in Taipei today houses more than 650,000 pieces of cultural artifacts. With such an enormous amount of artifact, the National Palace Museum does not exhibit the complete collection, but has a roster to exhibit the artifacts.
Gary and I spent half a day at the museum. Afraid that we might not have enough time at the museum, we headed right away to the third floor to view two of the most famous exhibit in National Palace Museum – The Jadeite Cabbage and the Meat-Shaped Stone. The two exhibits are located in Gallery 302 “Nature and Human in Unison – The Smart Carvings of Jade and Beautiful Stones” (天人合唱 – 巧雕玉石展).
The Jadeite Cabbage and Meat-Shaped Stone. Images taken from the National Palace Museum website.
You will be awed at the workmanship, and how closely the two resembles the actual cabbage and meat piece! On my previous visit to the museum few years ago, there was also one gallery that exhibited “Man Han Quan Xi” – a feast with delicacies from Manchu and Han cuisine, all made of jade and stone. You could feel hungary looking at the exhibit ! Unfortunately it was not displayed on our visit, but do look out for this exhibit if you visit the museum.
Having limited time (as we had an appointment with Ivy Bridal later in the afternoon), we really did not get to spend quality time in all the galleries. There were two other galleries which were my favourites : Uncanny Ingenuity and Celestial Feats – The Carvings of Ming and Qing Dynasties (匠心與仙工 – 明清雕刻展), Gallery 304, third floor and Arts From the Ch’ing Imperial Collection (子子孫孫永寶用 – 清代皇室的文物典藏) Gallery 105, ground floor.
In Gallery 304, you will find carvings made from ivory, fruit stone, bamboo, wood and rhinoceros horn. Carvings made from fruit stone is so small you have to use the microscope to see the details.
Olive Seed Carving. Image taken from National Palace Museum website.
My favourites are the ivory carving where you can see meticulous masterpieces in perfection. Look out for the “Ivory Balls of Nested Concentric layers with Human Figures in Open Relief”, “Ivory Carving of 9 Storey Pagoda with Buddha Sitting Inside” and “Ivory of 4 Tiered Food Carrier Box”.
Ivory of 4 Tiered Food Carrier Box. Image taken from National Palace Museum Website.
Gallery 105 exhibits arts from the Ch’ing Dynasty. A major part of the display is dedicated to “Curio Boxes” of various shapes and sizes. Curio boxes are really storage boxes for the emperor’s treasure collections. The boxes are marvellously designed with hidden storage compartments such that sometimes when viewed from the outside, you won’t know how to open it. The past emperors of China sure knows how to keep themselves entertained !
Curio Box with 47 pieces of treasures hidden inside. Image taken from National Palace Museum website.
Curio Box. Image taken National Palace Museum website.
We went to the museum on a Monday morning, thinking there would be less people, but I was wrong! It is a popular tourist destination so be warned that it will be packed with large tour groups and sometimes you might have to que and fight through the crowd to view. We enjoyed our time exploring the National Palace Museum but just wished it was not so rushed and so packed with people.
Side Wing of National Palace Museum, Taipei.
Entrance of National Palace Museum.
Stone Lion Statue at the entrance.
Magnet souvenir which we bought from gift shop.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Shilin Station. Either take cab (around NT100) or take the No. 30, red bus to get to the museum.
National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan. http://www.npm.gov.tw/en/home.htm
Address: No.221, Sec. 2, Zhishan Rd., Shilin Dist., Taipei City 11143, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
Admission price : NT 160.
Exhibition Floor Plan. http://www.npm.gov.tw/en/visiting/exhibit/guide.htm#02
Arts from the Ch’ing Imperial Collection. Permanent Exhibition Gallery 105, Ground FLoor. http://www.npm.gov.tw/exh96/imperial_collection/
Nature and Human in Unison – The Smart Carvings of Jade and Beautiful Stones. Exhibition Gallery 302. Third Floor. http://www.npm.gov.tw/exh99/jade/1_en.htm
Uncanny Ingenuity and Celestial Feats – The Carvings of Ming and Qing Dynasties. Gallery 304. Third Floor. http://www.npm.gov.tw/exh98/carvings/en_01.html