A calligraphy work by the Kangxi Emperor (reign 1661-1722) Photo: Courtesy of The Palace Museum
A section of Along the River During the Qingming Festival Photo: Courtesy of The Palace Museum
Even though The Palace Museum in Beijing receives tens of thousands of visitors everyday, having visitors line up for almost six hours to see a single exhibition is something that has never happened before.
The exhibition that has attracted so much attention is the Masterpieces from the Qing Imperial Catalogue "The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat," a masterpiece collection of paintings and calligraphy owned by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)royal family that was unveiled on September 8. It is also one of the more important exhibitions celebrating the 90th anniversary of The Palace Museum.
Yet, no one expected that the line for an exhibition of traditional paintings and calligraphy works would end up being as crazy as lines for the new iPhone.
"The museum gates opened at 8:30 am. People ran like they were trying to win a 100-meter race to reach the ticket window… After waiting over two hours, I finally entered Wuying Hall, where I waited another 40 minutes just to see Along the River During the Qingming Festival. It was difficult to stand in line so long, but the exhibit was amazing. Although you only get a short time to admire it," Sina Weibo user Daling Sanbaili posted along with pictures illustrating just how huge the crowd at the museum was.
A rare experience
One of the reasons behind this craze is the fact that many of the pieces on display are shown only once every few years and are extremely old and rare.
One highlight in particular is Along the River During the Qingming Festival. Painted by Zhang Zeduan during the Northern Song (960-1127), this more than 5-meter-long scroll painting numbers among the top 10 most famous masterpieces in Chinese art history. It depicts the city of Bianjing (modern Kaifeng in Henan Province) and people from all walks of life in exquisite detail and is a window that allows viewers to experience the prosperity of Bianjing and the economic power of the Northern Song Dynasty.
The superb skill of the artist, the grand scale of scene and the historical and cultural value of this painting make it a national treasure. Even high-end copies can sell for several million yuan in the art market.
The painting was last exhibited 10 years ago during the 80th anniversary of the Palace Museum, after which it went on tour to Hong Kong in 2007 and Japan in 2014. However, this year marks the first time the painting has been displayed in its entire length.
In a press release, Palace Museum Director Shan Jixiang explained to the Global Times that many of the museum's valuable paintings and calligraphy works are so delicate that they can only be exhibited during spring and fall and only for a maximum period of two months. After each exhibition, these items then must be stored for at least three years before they can be displayed again.
Shan explained that to better preserve the collection, some of the current items on display will be changed out on October 12, which means that some items will only be on display for a month's time.
During the late Qing Dynasty and the early years of the Republic of China (1912-49), a substantial amount of cultural relics were removed from the Forbidden City. After the Palace Museum was founded, and especially after the foundation of the People's Republic of China, these lost treasures have been gradually returned to the Palace Museum.
Dozens of experts from the museum spent several years researching and collecting items for this special exhibition. According to the Palace Museum, the exhibition includes 228 calligraphy works and 1,001 paintings. Among the 1,229 works of art, 330 were returned after the founding of the People's Republic of China.
While museum officials are happy that the exhibition has been such a hit, they understand that rising visitor numbers can adversely affect people's viewing experience.
Palace Museum officials recommend that visitors first read information provided on their official website, WeChat and other publications before visiting so as to improve their viewing experience. Visitors can also book tickets through the museum's official website as well.
Seeing just how popular Along the River During the Qingming Festival has proved, the museum plans to display the painting once again in 2020, the Forbidden City's 600 year anniversary.