Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Wonders of the National Palace Museum 国立故宫博物院

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The National Palace Museum's Main Building
"Haven't you been to the National Palace Museum?" asked a colleague during our recent Taiwan trip.

Well, yes I have. I'm a big fan of museums and I don't mind visiting a museum I like more than once, especially Taiwan's National Palace Museum (NPM). [Click here for a video.]

The Museum's Administration Building.
I fell in love with NPM the first time I saw its grand architecture as well as it jade and ceramics collections back in 2007. I  told myself I'd return soon as I get a chance. The National Palace Museum houses more than 680,000 treasures of Chinese culture and art. Most of these items were initially stored in the Forbidden City in Beijing then transferred to 2 locations within Taiwan in 1949 to avoid being damaged by a civil war. These were later moved its current location in Shihlihn district in 1969.

The long queue at Exhibit Area I.
The opportunity to revisit the NPM came last month when my colleagues and I did a goodwill visit to Taipei in time for Taiwan's 100th Anniversary.  Interestingly, there was a lot of people at the National Palace Museum when we arrived there one late afternoon. It turned out that entrance to the museum is free every Saturday  from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. As it was our second visit, my colleagues and I decided to explore the museum at our own leisure so we can see our favorites (and some of the new exhibits) within a limited time. With our English Guide Map, we  made our way to the entrance of the Exhibition Area. After the inspection (No cameras, food or drink, and large bags allowed!), we took an elevator to the third floor where the popular collections of the NPM are located. 

The third floor was buzzing with activity as visitors moved from one room to another while tour guides with large flags herded their respective groups. This was where my colleagues and I split. I immediately headed to Room 302 for the Nature and Human in Unison exhibit which features smart carvings of jade and beautiful stones. I just had to see again these 2 amazing carvings:

The jadeite cabbage and meat-shaped stone
(Photo from Google Images)
The jadeite cabbage was made during the Qing Dynasty. It's believed to be a dowry gift to the Emperor's consort. It is created in the likeness of a bokchoy cabbage with 2 insects (a locust and a katydid) on its leaves. I found it very impressive because the type of jadeite used to create this cabbage had a lot of flaws and was very difficult to work on. Yet the craftsman was able to transform it to a very natural-looking and exquisite design that made my jaw drop the first time I saw it. I made sure to take a close look to see the attention to details especially on the white stems, the green leaves and the locust.   On the other hand, the meat-shaped stone was made during the Chi'ing dynasty.  It was carved from a banded jasper then stained, giving it the appearance of a glistening and mouth-watering piece of braised pork belly served on a golden plate. I'm sure you'll feel hungry (like me!) the moment you see it.

Adjacent to Room 302 is the exhibit on Art in Quest of Heaven and Truth which has a collection of Chinese jade art and crafts from different periods of history. I did not have a chance to see this exhibit during my first visit so I felt a bit overwhelmed looking at all the objects on display and knowing little about the story behind the items. Anyway, it was quite interesting to see the evolution of Chinese jade art and learn how jade was fashioned into different objects.

Handled Ivory Openwork Container (L) and Ivory Hat Stand
with concentric balls (R) (Images from
My next stop was at Room 304 for the carvings of the Ming and Qing Era. The intricate wood, bamboo, and ivory sculpture pieces in this exhibit highlight the genius, creativity, and tradition of excellence observed by artisans of the past. I am particularly fascinated with the handled ivory openwork container which  initially looks like a neatly woven food basket. A closer look reveals an exquisite and delicate decor with various figures and images. Similarly, the  ivory hat stand with concentric spheres amazes me with its  perfect workmanship. Can you imagine how the carvings inside the sphere were made? It's thus not surprising that this exhibit is called Uncanny Feat and Celestial Ingenuity.

After exploring the West Wing, I headed to the East Wing to see the Bell and Cauldron Inscriptions exhibit at Room 301.  It features ancient vessels cast in bronze with inscriptions that commemorate significant events or important virtues that must be shared for generations to come. I wanted to see again the Zong Zhou Zong Bell, a musical instrument that was commissioned by King Li during the Zhou dynasty.  Aside from its historical value, I was drawn to this bell because of its quiet dignity and strength. The bell's protrusions also reminds me of a mighty warrior's gear.  Also in this exhibit is the Mao Gong Ding, a bronze vessel with the longest inscribed text on it.

The Zong Zhou Zhong Bell
(Image from  ChinaCulture. Org)

Once I have seen my favorites, I explored other exhibits that I did not pay much attention to in my previous visit. I  passed through the Painting and Calligraphy Exhibits on the second floor and the special exhibit, Beyond Landscape (Landscape Reunited) located at the 1st floor.  The latter was the highlight of my visit. It featured Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, one of the surviving works of legendary artist Huang Gongwang  that was made 660 years ago. The long handscroll depicts the scenery of the Fuchun Mountains of Hangzhou, China. I found it simply breathtaking as each brushstroke and shade created a a dramatic representation of the trees, rocks, rivers, hills and mountains. The artwork simply gave me goosebumps! Making the experience even more memorable was the fact that it was more than 300 years since that precious painting was displayed in full - the scroll was burned into two halves many decades ago and the parts were kept in separate places. 

The amazement and wonder I felt while looking at the different works of art made my return visit to the National Palace Museum truly worthwhile. I do not regret going back one day even if I get some surprised stares from my friends.

The NPM Main Building's outdoor staircase

The National Palace Museum is located at No. 221, Sec. 2, Zhishan Rd., Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan. It's open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 18:30 p.m. On Saturdays, museum hours are extended from 1830-20:30 and admission is FREE during that period. There are also cultural shows at the NPM during Saturdays. For directions on how to get there by bus, MRT or car, click on this link.

Regular ticket price is NTD 160.  This year (2011), as part of Taiwan's Centennial celebration, guests visiting on weekdays during off-peak hours (4:30 6:30 p.m, excluding public holidays) will get a 50% discount on their tickets.  Free guided tours in English are available daily, one at 10:00 a.m. and another one at 3:00 p.m. Visitors must proceed to the Information desk to register.

Special thanks to Alice Su, Yee Huang, Joe Tsai, Chun Hao Huang, and the rest of RAC TTT for bringing me and my friends to the NPM. 

Have you been to the National Palace Museum? Share your experience in the comments section!


  1. That meat-shaped stone looks so real! I wonder how it looks like in person.

  2. It makes you want to take a bite!


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