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The Sounds of a Prosperous Age: Timepieces in the Collections of the Forbidden City and the Mountain Resort

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Location:East Gallery in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong)

Dates: 2022-01-26 through 2022-05-08

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On 25 January 2022, the opening ceremony for the exhibition “The Sounds of a Prosperous Age: Timepieces in the Collections of the Forbidden City and the Mountain Resort” was held at the Studio of Esteemed Excellence (Jingshen zhai) of the Palace of Established Happiness (Jianfu gong) in the Forbidden City. The exhibition is jointly organized by the Palace Museum and the Relics Bureau of the Chengde Municipal Government with support by Hongqi of the FAW Group. Located in the east gallery in the courtyard of the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) in the Forbidden City, the exhibition will be on view from 26 January to 8 May. Due to current epidemic control measures, advance reservation is required with a daily limit of 1,000 visitors.

Timepieces are a unique and precious category in the vast court collection of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). The Palace Museum’s collection of timepieces maintains an important place in world timepiece collections. The Forbidden City and the Mountain Resort were centers of imperial governance and daily court life during the Qing period, during which quantities of timepieces were collected and displayed. The collections of these two institutions share the same origins and are, thus, difficult to segregate. This exhibition presents a selection of quintessential works from both collections in parallel displays with forty pieces from the Palace Museum and twenty from the Mountain Resort. Crafted from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, the pieces were made by renowned manufacturers in England, France, Switzerland, and other Western countries and by the most skilled Chinese craftsmen in the Qing court workshop, Guangzhou, Suzhou, and other domestic sites. One exceptional feature of the exhibition is the parallel display of ten pairs of timepieces from both collections, which provides visitors with comparisons of pieces from different periods, cultures, and locations while fully demonstrating the Qing court collection and the evolution of the court’s concept of time.

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The timepieces in the exhibition from the Chengde Mountain Resort Museum collection are the most import part of the museum’s timepiece collection. During the southward evacuation of cultural relics during the 1930s and 1940s, they were included in the shipments with other important cultural artifacts. Since their return from Nanjing to Chengde in 1956, this exhibition is their first large-scale departure from the Mountain Resort. The east side gallery in the Palace of Heavenly Purity was known as the Hall of Striking Clocks (Ziming zhong chu) during the Qing period. During the 2022 Spring Festival of this Renyin Year, the Palace Museum and the Mountain Resort present this historic occasion with an organic fusion of art and culture through which visitors may appreciate the finest timepieces from both collections and enjoy a voyage through time and artistic grandeur.

Timepieces are one of the greatest human inventions as they transform formless time into the tangible, rotating hands of a clock and become a perfect crystallization of human ingenuity and knowledge. From one perspective, the gears of timepieces and the mechanics of automobiles are integrally related, which is an important reason for support by Hongqi of the FAW Group.

On 24 August 2021 during his inspection of the Chengde Mountain Resort, President Xi Jinping spoke on the site’s profound connotations. He noted the historical value and temporal significance of the site’s ethnic exchange and fusion, mutual religious and societal adaptations, protection and propagation of traditional culture, and harmonious interactions between humanity and nature. He stressed the need to effectively protect, propagate, and utilize China’s excellent traditional culture and uncover its abundant contents to facilitate better steadfast cultural confidence and the spirit of national cohesion. This exhibition is an enthusiastic joint response by the Palace Museum, Mountain Resort, and FAW’s Hongqi to President Xi Jinping’s directive and will serve to advance and propagate the legacy and development of China’s outstanding culture and act as an effective practicum of strengthening cultural confidence.

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The exhibition is also a continuation of the strategic cooperative agreement signed between the Palace Museum and the Relics Bureau of the Chengde Municipal Government in 2020, the first cooperation since “The Fortune and Longevity of Sumeru: An Encounter between the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and the Mountain Resort” organized at the Chengde Museum, and an active experiment of the “Going Out” (Zouchuqu) strategy for Chengde as supported by the Palace Museum. In 2020, the Palace Museum and the Mountain Resort Museum jointly established the Joint Conservation Laboratory for Ancient Timepieces and has already undertaken work on some of the pieces in the Mountain Resort collection. This exhibition is a display of those joint conservation efforts and an active experiment of FAW’s Hongqi as a national brand employing China’s traditional culture to empower a Chinese automotive brand and utilizing the splendor of the Orient to assist the Chinese automotive industry in progressively improving brand culture from Made in China to Mind in China and then on to Created in China.

After the exhibition, some of the timepieces will be on view at the Mountain Resort Museum in Chengde. 

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu

 

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