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On September 3, 2018, the opening ceremony was held for the beginning of conservation work as part of a major step in the “The Hall of Mental Cultivation Research and Conservation Initiatives”. The Palace Museum’s Director Shan Jixiang and Executive Deputy-Director Wang Yamin were both in attendance, as was Liu Yang, Wang Danhua, and Zhang Zhiping of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage; Yu Ping of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage; Chai Xiaoming of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage; and Zheng Xinmiao and Li Ji of the Palace Museum’s research institutes. Various personnel from the companies and supervisory bodies involved in the project were also present. The Palace Museum’s Deputy-Director Feng Naien served as the master of ceremonies.
After over two years of preparations, conservation work has officially started and will include various sub-projects within an area of 7,707 square meters and 2,540 square meters of architecture. Encompassing thirteen different architectural and decorative structures within the Gate of Observing Righteousness (Zunyi men), some of the most iconic structures included are the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin dian) itself, the H-shaped passageway (Gongzi lang, in the shape of the character gong), the Rear Hall (Hou dian), Plum Blossom Studio(Mei wu, a small warming chamber), together with ancillary doors ornamented with colored glazes (liuli men) and wooden screen walls (zhaobi).
The Palace Museum administration is dedicated to three main principles in these conservation efforts, namely, preserving as much original material (and, thus, “historical information”) as possible in conservation and restoration projects, maintaining the original condition and design, and using traditional craftsmanship and techniques in conservation projects. The conservation initiatives and concomitant sub-projects have been and will continue to be guided by the expertise of researchers and implemented by qualified personnel. In selecting partners for these projects, the administration decided to forego the conventional bidding process and opted for competitive negotiations with various potential partners. As a result, the Beijing Guowenyan Corporation that specializes in gardens and historic architecture was selected as the Museum’s partner for the conservation. All of the personnel involved in the project have undergone thorough training as part of the Museum’s guarantee for the quality of the work.
During this phase of the initiatives, every component of the architecture and décor of the Hall and its surrounding structures is being meticulously documented for research and managerial purposes. Each sub-project is being carried out with expert guidance from architects, scientists, and historians who specialize in their respective fields in order to ensure quality and accuracy.
Director Shan Jixiang stressed the importance of maintaining architectural integrity and the original state and avoiding unnecessary modifications to historic buildings. Meanwhile, he noted that the conservation must be conducted with the intention of eventual opening to the public while preserving the historic nature of the architecture. These conservation initiatives are part of a national strategy to preserve and manage the heritage architecture of China, pass on traditional craftsmanship to future generations, and provide a model for the protection and research of Chinese cultural heritage.
Recently, an exhibition in the Palace of Eternal Longevity (Yongshou gong) showcased the progress made in the “The Hall of Mental Cultivation Research and Conservation Initiatives”. The displays highlighted the research, planning, and implementation required for the initiatives and the various sub-projects and showed how the various departments of the Palace Museum have been cooperating with each other and outside bodies to achieve the goals of the initiatives.
The Palace Museum administration anticipates “The Hall of Mental Cultivation Research and Conservation Initiatives” to be completed in the year 2020 and looks forward to welcoming Chinese and international visitors for an unprecedented view of the historic courtyard.
About the Hall of Mental Cultivation
(The following historical summary was adapted from a previously published summary in an announcement regarding the digital exhibition “Discovering the Hall of Mental Cultivation”.)
The Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin dian) was built in 1536 (the sixteenth year of the Jiajing reign, 1522–1566) during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
According to Records regarding the Ding Tomb (Dingling zhulüe) by Wen Bing (1609–1669), repairs on the Hall were undertaken in the twenty-second year (1594) of the Wanli reign (1573–1620).
During the Shunzhi reign (1644–1661) of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), this Hall was used as a residential courtyard with one of the rooms serving as the emperor’s bedchamber. The Shunzhi Emperor died of smallpox in the Hall in the eighteenth year of his reign (1661) on the seventh day of the first lunar month.
Early in his reign, the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662–1722) designated the Hall as a workshop of the Imperial Household Department. The workshop was relocated to the Tea and Food Section (Chafan fang) on the south of the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cining gong) in part in 1691 (thirtieth year of Kangxi) and, then, completely in 1708 (forty-seventh year of Kangxi). According to the article The Hall of Mental Cultivation during the Kangxi Period (Kangzi shiqi de Yangxin dian), the Hall was that emperor’s place for daily study and granting audiences to ministers. For a time, it was also a site of the imperial kitchen. The Hall was repaired in 1717 (fifty-sixth year of Kangxi).
In 1722 (the sixty-first year of the Kangxi reign, 1662–1722), the upcoming Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723–1735) began to use this courtyard as his residence. During the Yongzheng reign, the emperor utilized the space for his daily administrative affairs. The Hall replaced the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) as the center of court affairs.
During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795), the Hall of the Three Rarities (Sanxi tang) was constructed in this courtyard and used to house the masterpieces Timely Clearing after Snowfall (Kuaixue shiqing tie), Mid-Autumn Manuscript (Zhongqiu tie), and Letter to Boyuan (Boyuan tie); that emperor also constructed a mezzanine (xian lou) in the hall as a haven in which to practice Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1799 (the fourth year of the Jiaqing reign, 1796–1820), the Qianlong Emperor passed away within this courtyard.
In 1861 (the eleventh year of the Xianfeng reign, 1851–1861), the five-year old Zaichun was installed as the Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1862–1873), and Empresses Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) and Cian (1837–1881) began their reign from behind the curtain.
On February 12, 1912, the last emperor, Puyi (the Xuantong Emperor, r. 1909–1911), marked the end of the imperial rule of China as he declared his abdication at the Hall of Mental Cultivation.
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying