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13 August 2016 — The Suzhou Museum is currently displaying several dozen pieces and sets of carved crafts from the Palace Museum's collection of former imperial treasures. During the opening ceremony, the director of the Palace Museum Dr. Shan Jixiang delivered a speech entitled “Preserving and Inheriting – Contemporary Craftsmanship at the Palace Museum”. In honor of the exhibition, after the ceremony Mr. Zhang Linjie—an associate research fellow at the Palace Museum—lectured at the Suzhou Museum on “The Suzhou Phenomenon in the Forbidden City: The Art of Suzhou Carving during the Ming and the Qing Dynasties.”
An old Chinese expression declares, “Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below”, as a succinct description of the two cities' matchless qualities. Throughout history, the favorable location, weather, and economy of Suzhou have fostered a unique cultural and natural landscape and have made Suzhou one of the world's most renowned cities of historic and cultural interest. In the latter half of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Suzhou artisanship reached unprecedentedly heights. During this time, carving techniques of local craftsmen became increasingly specialized. Gradually, the artisans of Suzhou distinguished themselves from those in the capital and Guangdong. Many commented on how skillful craftsmen convened in the capital city, but the most dexterous hailed from the prefecture of Suzhou. The Qing government strengthened the ties between the imperial court and Suzhou by establishing the Imperial Silk Manufactory (Zhizao ju). Suzhou presented fine carved arts as tribute to the empire. Meanwhile, the area's local carving techniques thrived and eventually exerted influence upon the court's own artisan styles.
This loan exhibition, Suzhou Crafts of the Ming and Qing Dynasties from the Palace Museum Collection, celebrates the tenth anniversary of the new museum designed by the Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. The exhibition is organized into four parts. The first part focuses on how the rapid development of carving skills in Suzhou is credited to the influence of literati in the Ming dynasty. The second part shifts its focus to the significant role played by Suzhou craftsmen in the Imperial Household Workshop in the early Qing. The third part features a large number of works by Suzhou artisans commissioned by the imperial family. The fourth part presents works of original design made to serve as tribute from Suzhou to the imperial family.
The Palace Museum and the Suzhou Museum have closely worked together in recent years. The Palace Museum has taken part in a series of special exhibitions organized by the Suzhou Museum about artists of the Wu School of Painting such as Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), Tang Yin (1470-1523), and Qiu Ying (ca. 1505-1552).