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Forbidden City relics to debut in US (video)

August 19, 2010

The Global Times reported yesterday on an upcoming exhibition of Forbidden City relics that will make their public debut in the U.S. in September. The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City includes 105 relics from the Emperor Qianlong’s (r. 1736-1795) retirement compound in their first public showing either in China or outside it.

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This world-exclusive show offers rare insights into the private life of this emperor:

“This is the first time that we have sent out Qianlong’s furniture and daily-use items, which reveal more about his leisure time rather than of him as a political figure,” Wang told the Global Times.

But why will the luxuries be seen abroad before ever being displayed at home? Wang explained, “The exhibition is not an inter-government program, it’s more like a commercial project. The World Monuments Fund (WMF) started cooperating with us on the restoration of the Qianlong Garden in 2007. The whole restoration budget is about 200 million yuan ($29.44 million), and the WMF funded almost half.”

The Qianlong Garden is still formally closed to the public, and there is currently no plan to exhibit the relics after their US museum tour. Some believe the relics should be exhibited in China first:

“Luxuries like that shouldn’t be taken to foreign countries first,” said Cao Guoliang, who works for the Beijing Eastern Chemical Works. “It’s just like taking a Chinese movie to a foreign film festival before playing it in a Chinese cinema. How weird is that?”

But the Palace Museum believes that a foreign debut is important to show not only the relics, but also the international cooperation that went into the conservation and protection of these rare and important works.

“The Emperor’s Private Paradise” runs 14 September 2010 to 9 January 2011 at the Peabody Essex Museum, and will then travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin.

*Full disclosure: I’ll be speaking at the exhibition’s symposium, “Artful Retreat: Garden Culture of the Qing Dynasty,” Nov. 12-13, 2010.

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