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The Treasure Hall--About the Forbidden City

The Treasure Hall consists of three imperial palaces, namely, Character Cultivation Palace, Happiness Longevity Hall and Combined Harmony Porch. The private apartments of Emperor Qianlong and Empress Dowager Ci'xi were here. The Character Cultivation Palace must have reminded the old Emperor Qianlong of the Hall of Mental Cultivation where he lived for a long time. Happiness Longevity Hall used to be Emperor Qianlong's library, and the Empress Dowager Ci'xi also celebrated her 61th birthday here. The Combined Harmony Porch was for repose for Emperor Qianlong. Now these three Palaces have been turned into three exhibition rooms where some of the imperial treasures are displayed.

Most of the exhibits are tea sets or dinner sets made out of materials like gold, silver and jade. The dinner sets were mostly made of silver as it could indicate whether or not the food was poisonous. The silver container would turn black when it contained poisonous food. Other exhibits are the old chimes, imperial seal, milk containers, Ruyi (a lucky sceptre), small incense burners and other religious vessels and bowls.

The jade jar and mountain carries the good wishes of the emperor. It comes from a Chinese couplet wishing the Emperor happiness as boundless as water in the East Sea, and his life as long as the old pine tree on the South Mountain.

There are also many pavilions, pagodas and towers made of gold or jade. These were gifts for the Emperor s concubines. Also noteworthy is the gold stupa used to collect the fallen hair of Emperor Qianlong's mother. It weighs more than 100 kg, and is made of gold.

The treasured ivory mat deserves special attention. It is 216 cm long and 139cm wide, made of delicate ivory strips. It is said that the mat was woven about 250 years ago. Altogether, 5 mats were produced and kept in the Museum at that time. Where are these valuable treasures now? You may wonder.

Well, in 1960, when the relics of the Palace Museum were sorted out, only one was found, the other four simply disappeared. A few years later, the Shangdong Provincial Museum in East China collected one from a local peasant. The peasant said, the ivory mat was brought there by a local pear broker, and in turn, he sent it to a nearby noble at the beginning of the century. The peasent got the mat as a part of the distribution during the Land Reform of the 1950's.

Now, how did this treasure fall into the hands of a pear broker? Specialists believed that the mat was stolen by the Anglo-French Force that invaded China in the 1900s, and later sold to the pear broker. The other possibility is that it was stolen and sold by a court eunuch. Regardless of the reason, it is fortunate that this Chinese artifact was recovered. Later, when the Palace Museum was sorting out Taiwanese bamboo mats, surprisingly, another ivory mat was found hidden among them. This ivory mat was treated by a special process, and even today, it can be easily rolled up. It is a pity that the technique has been lost!

Ivory can be made into mats, but feathers have also been woven into beautiful garments. In 1983, two feather dresses of the Miao Nationality were discovered in a peasant's home. Made from the feathers of more than 100 birds, each coat has three distinctive parts, each part able to serve as a child's coat itself. Though more than 300 years old, the feather coat has remained bright and colorful. It is said that it was left by a king's concubine of the Miao Nationality.

Do you know anything about jade clothing? Unlike feather coats, jade clothing was made for the deceased. During the Han Dynasty about 2,000 years ago, it was fashionable to dress deceased emperors or nobles with this attire. Three styles remained; using gold, silver or copper thread to sew the jade slip together. The emperor wore the garment sewn in gold, kings and princess wore ones done in silver, while other officials and nobles had ones sewn in copper thread. The jade slips somewhat resembled shining fish scales.

Of the jade clothing sewn with gold and silver thread, two have been found in North China's Hebei Province. Well preserved each one was made of more than 2,000 jade pieces, the gold threads used in the garment weigh about 1,800 grams, Most of the jade pieces are rectangular or square in shape, some are also triangular or other shaped. It is clear when examining the garment that each jade piece has been polished and every hole carefully drilled. Specialists say even with today's technology, it would take a jade carver ten years to complete one of these outfits.

Today, the jade clothing sewn with silver thread, though considered inferior in rank to the one sewn with gold thread, seems to have been more treasured, because up to now, few have been found. The one uneaithed in East China's Jiangsu Province is a 170 cm long jade dress, composed of 2,600 jade pieces and 800 grams of silver thread.

At least 10 different procedures were involved, including material selection, making slip, the drilling and plishing. This treasure can be viewed at the Nanjing Museum.

The exhibits we saw just now were only portion of the treasures of the Forbidden City. It is difficult to estimate how many treasures there were in the Museum. What's more, a lot were lost during the constant wars and frequent fires. When the Kuomingtang government of Chiang Kai shek fled the mainland for Taiwan, they packed almost everything movable. Altogether 2972 cases of treasures were shipped to Taiwan. Nonetheless, what you see today may have already been an experience of a lifetime!



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