Palace Museum open day gives public chance to see ‘hospital’ for national treasures

Visitors watch restoration and repairs being carried out on bronze wares, paintings, calligraphy works and thangka during tour of facility

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 7:32pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 8:06pm

The Palace Museum in Beijing on Saturday held its first open day for the public to see where and how China’s national treasures are restored.

Forty visitors who had booked free tickets watched the specialists in action at the museum’s “hospital” for relics set up in 2016 to look after the collection, The Beijing News reported on Sunday.

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Through a window, they were able to watch restoration and repairs being carried out on bronze wares, ancient paintings, calligraphy works and thangka, or Tibetan scroll paintings, the report said. They were also shown a huge CT scanner used to check the inner structure of relics.

Shan Jixiang, director of the museum, told the newspaper the unit – located on the western side of the Forbidden City – employed 200 conservation experts.

“We use the best techniques in the world to restore the relics, and we have the most equipment of any such institute and the most restoration specialists,” Shan was quoted as saying.

He said the open day was about showing the public how the priceless artefacts are conserved – and that it depends on a mix of traditional techniques, experience and modern technology.

“The open day has confirmed for us that visitors should be able to see, participate, benefit from and even supervise how we look after these relics,” Shan said. “It’s an important bridge connecting our ancient culture with modern life.”

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Some 25 volunteers were chosen from a field of more than 870 applicants to show the visitors around the facility, according to the report.

The museum is now in the process of creating an electronic record for every one of its 1.8 million items, Shan said. The record will include information on its previous damage, what repair process was used, when and where is has been displayed, and the temperature and humidity of the display area.

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Treasures from the palace, which was built in the early 15th century and was home to the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the end of imperial rule in 1911, include bronze statues, lacquer ware, textiles, pottery, paintings, calligraphy and religious artefacts.

A big team of experts was needed to handle such a vast collection, the museum director said.

“I have been to world-class museums such as the British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre Museum. They have only 30 to 40 restoration specialists in their repair facilities, but we have 200 ‘doctors’,” he said. “We need so many people because we need to be scientific about conserving our relics.”

The museum said it would announce details for its next open day soon.