Royal inspiration


Stamps designed by veteran artist Han Meilin will be released on Jan 5 in the Palace Museum to welcome the Year of the Pig. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Palace Museum will host two displays in Beijing to welcome the Year of the Pig.

Beijing's Forbidden City, which is the former imperial palace of China and is now officially known as the Palace Museum, will soon welcome the Year of the Pig following the Chinese zodiac.

A major exhibition displaying 885 cultural relics will open to the public on Jan 6, the first day of the 12th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, at the Meridian Gate Gallery, which is above the entrance gate of the museum. It'll take visitors back in time with royal rituals of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Presenting old antithetical couplets and images of "door gods", which were pasted on front doors to keep evil spirits away, calligraphy works featuring the Chinese character fu (fortune), and items used in royal rituals and religious rites, the exhibition is designed with a panoramic view of how Chinese emperors celebrated Spring Festival.

The character (fu) handwritten by the Qing emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing and Daoguang are among the most important artifacts on display. On the first day of the 12th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, emperors would write fu to mark the beginning of celebrations.

Another highlight is a scroll painting created between 1745 and 1751 that portrays people skating and performing acrobatics on a frozen lake in a royal garden.

The auspicious character fu written by five Qing Dynasty emperors-(from left) Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing and Daoguang-will be displayed in the Palace Museum to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In addition, scenes of Chinese New Year banquets are portrayed in replicas based on studies of royal files.

Ren Wanping, deputy director of the Palace Museum and the exhibition's curator, tells media that royal celebrations for Spring Festival also included homages to heaven, expressing wishes for the country's prosperity, and revealing rulers' determination and diligence. Consequently, the precious Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability inlaid with gemstones, an iconic artifact showing such expectations, is part of the exhibition catalog as are other relics with similar cultural meanings.

Digital equipment is used in the exhibition to enable visitors to have immersive experiences of "participating" in the rituals.

Ren says the exhibition has taken nine months to prepare, and the festive elements will be added across the Forbidden City-even beyond the gallery, where the display will be held. For example, antithetical couplets and "door gods" are to be pasted on all major gates along visitor routes in the complex.

A pair of antithetical couplets for Spring Festival written by emperor Qianlong. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Palatial lanterns will hang from the eaves of the Palace of Heavenly Purity, which is on the axis of the Forbidden City, to replicate the olden days. According to royal files, some 196 lanterns would be placed around this palace for Spring Festival during imperial times.

As a detailed process of traditional craftsmanship was needed to make the lanterns, Ren says, nine months were not enough time to make many for the upcoming Spring Festival. More can be expected in the future, she adds.

A contemporary fine-arts guru is set to join the coming celebrations at the Palace Museum by presenting his solo exhibition in the Hall of Literary Glory in the east of the museum.

Han Meilin, 82, will prove he remains versatile and prolific through some 300 artworks-including paintings, calligraphy works, sculptures, pottery pieces and others-featuring the Chinese zodiac at the exhibition. Half of his exhibits are new works.

A pair of antithetical couplets for Spring Festival written by emperor Qianlong. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Of course, the pig will be a major theme of the exhibition, since it is the animal of the new year.

"Unlike the dragon, which has an appearance that offers abundant inspiration, the pig is rather plain-looking," Han says.

But he says ideas can be inspired by traditional folk arts.

He drew 1,600 sketches of pigs while preparing for the exhibition. The abundance of colors and abstract expressions create new interpretations of this animal in accordance with the Chinese zodiac. He even introduced new technology, such as 3D printing, to his works.

Han's solo exhibition can be viewed by the public from Jan 6, too.