The Palace Museums in Hong Kong, Beijing and Taipei are home to stunning artefacts that showcase the best of Chinese civilisation . Among these millions of artefacts, some stand apart as being particularly stunning. We showcase 15 of the must-see treasures from all three museums. Hong Kong Palace Museum A handscroll painted by Emperor Huizong This fantastic window into Chinese art from over 900 years ago was painted by an emperor, making it a remarkable artefact. The work of Emperor Huizong, who ruled the Northern Song dynasty from 1100-1126, the piece depicts a winter landscape in which a fisherman goes about his day as the scroll unfolds. The history of the scroll itself is also intriguing, having been passed through the hands of notable collectors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The last Qing dynasty emperor, Puyi (1906-1967), who was six years old when he abdicated the throne in 1912, gave it to his younger brother Pujie in 1922. It then found its way to a collector who returned the scroll to the Communist Party government in the 1960s. The seal of royalty from Emperor Hong Taiji The seal was used by Emperor Hong Taiji (r. 1636-1643), the founding emperor of the Qing dynasty (1636-1912). It was one of 25 seals that Hong personally handled, providing viewers with a direct window into the life of one of China’s most important figures. Hong was the eighth son of Nuhachi,, and was able to consolidate the empire after his father had launched a war against the Ming dynasty. While Hong declared the beginning of the Qing dynasty in 1636, he died before the Qing military could uproot the final Ming holdouts in northern China. Festive robes worn by Emperor Qianlong Known as the “dragon robe”, the garment was worn at birthdays, festivals and other special occasions. It features nine five-clawed dragons, a symbol of imperial power, with one hidden beneath the inner flap. While princesses and nobles could wear robes with five-clawed dragons, this robe also includes 12 imperial emblems and an axe on the breast, indicating that it was used by Emperor Qianlong, who ruled from 1735-1796. A similar robe made for emperors during this time sold for US$275,000 at a Christie’s auction in September 2021. Zhao Fu handscroll An artistic masterpiece, the mid-12th century scroll is an example of famous artwork from the Northern and Southern Song dynasties, which often depicted sceneries of mountains and rivers. The painting is celebrated for strong and precise brushstrokes and for using wet washes (a technique leveraging diluted paint) to depict water, which was unique to his time. Zhao lived on Mount Beigu, a historically important small hill near the Yangtze River in Zhenjiang province in eastern China that features a stunning temple built into the sides of cliffs. Ewer with dragons and clouds This piece is a reminder that many of China’s traditions are centuries old, such as the annual family gatherings during the Lunar New Year. This ewer from the Qianlong palace of the Qing dynasty was likely used to carry wine during family gatherings. Experts believe it was used during the winter to carry hot wine because it is made of gold, believed to keep the liquid warm. If it were made of crystal or jade, that would have indicated it was probably used in the summer, with the materials expected to keep the wine cold. Beijing Palace Museum The “Eternal Territorial Integrity” golden cup Maybe the most famous artefact at the Beijing Palace Museum, this gold cup from the Qianlong Emperor features four characters that spell “eternal territorial integrity”, hence the name of the specimen. The cup is inlaid with pearls, rubies, sapphires and other jewels. It features two handles that are designed like dragons, also inlaid with pearls. The cup was used to drink wine and was explicitly designed only to be used for the emperor. Happy birthday message from the Sixth Panchen Lama This scroll is a happy birthday message from Lobsang Palden Yeshe, the Panchen Lama (1738-1780) and the second-highest ranked individual in the Buddhist tradition. Sent to the Qianlong Emperor it is separated into three sections, the first section is a series of praises for various Buddhist gods. The second section is when the Lama bestows good luck on the emperor for his reign and the third section is a list of birthday gifts included with the message. Champlevé Incense Burner Sometimes, everyday objects bring history to life, and this beautifully precise incense burner from the Qing dynasty is a fantastic example. Meticulously designed, the bronze body is shaped like a ribbed pumpkin with flowers wrapped around the middle. While the burner is less than a metre tall, it’s an example of an artefact that provides a relatable window into the lives of the people in China who came before us. Saddle with Engraved Floral Designs Historically, it was common for Tibetan leaders to send gifts to Chinese rulers at least once a year. The sixth Panchen Lama gave a saddle to the Qianlong Emperor at the imperial summer villa in Chengde, in present-day Hebei Province in northern China. An accompanying leather label has inscriptions in Manchu and Chinese stating the saddle was used by the Jiaqing Emperor (r. 1796–1820). Red satin Nuo performance robe This four-clawed dragon robe was worn as a costume in the Official Promotion Dance of traditional “Nuo performances”, believed to drive away the devil. The dance featured an actor dressed in a red robe in the role of a “Heavenly Official” who would show a scroll inscribed with auspicious phrases such as “the heavenly official bestows blessing” and “official promotion brings fortune” to the audience. Taipei’s National Palace Museum The Buddha Preaching the Law This scroll that was painted in the early part of the Song dynasty (960-1279) and it depicts the Buddha, seated with legs crossed on a lotus pedestal, on either side a heavenly king as protector of the Buddhist law. The Buddha has long eyebrows and delicate eyes for a refined yet majestic appearance, while the two heavenly kings wear armour and brandish a sword and lance to convey their fierce militarism. Qing dynasty map of Taiwan The map was created during the Qianlong era between 1756 and 1759, making it first-hand information detailing place name changes in Taiwan. The map features bright and elegant pictures with an artistic value that stands apart from other maps of Taiwan. All mountains, bays, rivers, islands, sandbanks, counties, government offices, temples, and forts on the map are clearly labelled. Zun in the form of an elephant of peace The zun (vase) was believed to have been produced in the Qianlong reign of the Qing dynasty and the elephant stands straight with its head turned back and eyes partially closed. Its trunk is curled upwards with tusks on either side. On its back is a saddle in the shape of a Chinese-style bullion, on which is a vase. Brocaded silk is draped on either side. The decoration of the saddle brocade symbolises longevity, prosperity and hopes for peace. Sancai figure of a Lokapala, Guardian King This enormous tricolour statue once served as a tomb guardian to ward off evil during the Tang dynasty (618-907). On the head of the heavenly king is a bird with wings as if about to fly. The figure’s eyebrows are knitted, and its eyes are bulging, with one hand being placed at the waist while the other, in a fist, is held aloft. The sculpture, covered mainly with bright green, brown, and white glaze, was donated by the wife of former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. Shakyamuni Buddha Northern Wei dynasty One of the most important bronze Buddhist statues in the world, Shakyamuni is in the full lotus position and his face has a spiritual, sombre expression. It stylistically resembles the stone Buddha statue of No 20 cave of the Yungang Grottoes in China, which dates to the Northern Wei Kingdom (around 460AD). The artefacts in the Hong Kong Palace Museum are rare and fragile, with some of the most precious treasures only on public display for one month at a time. Less fragile artefacts will be on display for periods of time ranging from three months to one year. Please reach out to the Palace Museum for specifics of an artefact you would like to see.