Emperor no garden-variety ruler
Lilly Zhang and Adrian Wan
The secrets of Emperor Qianlong's Forbidden City garden will be revealed in Hong Kong today.
They form an exhibition - A Lofty Retreat from the Red Dust: The Secret Garden of Emperor Qianlong - that opens at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It features 93 artefacts from the garden.
Also known as the Ningshou Gong Garden, it was created by the ruler as a retreat after he resigned the throne at the age of 85, in the 60th year of his reign in the 18th century.
The Museum of Art is the first in Asia to show the exhibits, which come from the Palace Museum in Beijing.
The most precious among them, according to Wang Zilin, a research fellow of the Palace Museum, are a bowl and vase with floral medallions in enamel, produced in the unique Jing Tai Lan art form, and a revolving vase, which looks plain from the outside but has another enamelled vase inside.
The exhibition also presents a collection of panoramic paintings depicting the everyday life of the emperor's concubines and children, portraits of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) and his furniture collection.
Wang says the artefacts not only showcase the exquisite craftsmanship of the Qing dynasty but also the spiritual world and religious beliefs of the emperor.
The exhibition will be the first in Hong Kong to use QR (quick response) codes for visitors to get more details about the artefacts.
They can scan the codes printed on the brochure and outside the exhibition hall with their smart-phones, or with the audio devices provided by the museum.
A 3D representation of the complex of pavilions, rockeries and courtyards, along with four interactive programmes, enable visitors to get a more visual understanding of the garden.
Chiu Kwong-chiu, director of the design and cultural studies workshop who is in charge of the multimedia programmes in the exhibition, has been studying the architectural structure of the garden with his team since 2005.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust donated HK$6.1 million to pay for half the cost of the exhibition, jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Palace Museum. It runs until October 14.
Yesterday, Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, director of Leisure and Cultural Services, and Dr Shan Jixiang, director of the Palace Museum, signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to stage a joint exhibition every year for the next five years in either Hong Kong or Beijing.
Preparations are already underway for two of the exhibitions: one on palace attire in the Qing dynasty and another on portraits and paintings from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Some Hong Kong artwork will be put on display in Beijing as well.
The two cities will also exchange ideas on how to preserve artefacts and educate people.
Qianlong's place in the line of succession of the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. He was the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper