Precious imperial exhibits from Beijing demand top security for Hong Kong exhibition

Show of 200 Qing-era artefacts set for Sha Tin this summer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 9:00am

Hong Kong Museum bosses will use state-of-the-art security technology to protect rare and expensively insured national treasures for an anniversary show this summer, a senior curator said.

Szeto Yuen-kit, curator of the Xubaizhai Collection of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, said specialists in Hong Kong and Beijing would work out how to safeguard the 200 pieces from Yangxin Hall of Emperor Yongzheng, who reigned from 1722 until 1735.

Part of a series of events marking the 20th anniversary of the special administrative region, artefacts from the hall – which are normally at Beijing’s Palace Museum – will be on display at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum from July until October.

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“We will discuss together the security matters such as handling and transportation of the artefacts,” said Szeto, a veteran curator of 30 years’ experience, and whose own day job involves working with items from the Palace Museum collection. “But once the relics arrive and are put on display, it will be our responsibility to watch over them.”

The curator said there were “confidential” measures from the Palace Museum to protect the artefacts. That was the case ten years ago during the exhibition of the Zhang Zeduan painting Along the River During Ching Ming Festival.

But Szeto said the entire process would follow standard international practices for handling artefacts, and he was “absolutely confident” in the city’s safety measures for the relics, many of which have never before left the Palace Museum.

Contrary to what was announced at a press conference last month – that the 4th century calligraphic scroll of Wang Xizhi would be among the exhibits – Szeto said negotiations were still under way, but that the great calligrapher’s work would not be involved.

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A key issue over one of the artefacts still under discussion, Szeto said, was whether or not it was fit to travel.

“Preserving an artefact is a more important mission than curating it, in order that future generations will get to see it,” he said.

He cited the famous Admonitions Scroll, a Chinese handscroll held at the British Museum in London, as an example of how frailty can be a predominant reason for an artefact staying put and inside a glass box for only occasional display.

But he said he was delighted that most of the Yangxin Hall relics, such as the original furniture, would be at the museum in Sha Tin this summer.

“The famous chair on which the Empress Dowager sat will be among the exhibits at the replica scene we set up for the display,” he said. The storied curtain from behind which the empress was known to exercise de facto power over the emperors “has yet to be confirmed of its authenticity,” the curator said.

Szeto declined to comment on the insurance premium for the exhibition, except remarking that “it is not the highest premium on record.”