Unconventional exhibits:expect the unexpected

Updated 2018-05-22 11:48:03 China Daily

Qing emperors' inkstones are among artifacts at new exhibitions in the Palace Museum in Beijing. (Photos By Wang Jing and Wang Kaihao/China Daily)

A digital journey through an ancient scroll, "blank-period" porcelain and inkstones are on display at the Forbidden City as part of International Museum Day events. Wang Kaihao looks at these unconventional exhibits.

May 18, or International Museum Day typically, is full of surprises at the Palace Museum in Beijing, also known as the Forbidden City.

Much focus at the former imperial palace on the recent International Museum Day was devoted to the new digital display of China's most-celebrated ancient painting, Along the River during Qingming Festival, from the 12th century.

Visitors can take a virtual ride along the "river" to experience the prosperity of the capital city of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), thanks to 4D-dome cinema technology.

Two other exhibitions that opened the same day were equally unconventional.

The first displays rarely exhibited porcelains from the "blank period" of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in the museum's Palace of Prolonging Happiness.

The Exhibition of Ming Dynasty Official Porcelain from the Zhengtong (1436-49), Jingtai (1450-57) and Tianshun (1457-64) Periods, which will run through June 17, shows 215 exhibits of a neglected segment of Ming porcelain. These pieces are often ignored today, even though the dynasty is generally considered a peak period in Chinese ceramic history.

In 1369, the "imperial kiln" was completed in Jingdezhen, in today's Jiangxi province, to produce exclusively for the royal family.

Most exhibits come from archaeological discoveries made in Jingdezhen in 1988 and 2014.

There was no porcelain exhibition particularly focusing on these periods anywhere before, says Lyu Chenglong, a researcher with the museum.

"The decades are called the 'blank period' because we haven't found any official porcelain bearing the names of the three emperors' reigns," he explains.

One exception is an exhibited bowl from a privately owned kiln in today's Hubei province, created during the reign of Tuanshun.

It was common practice in ancient China to inscribe the bottom of porcelain pieces with production reigns.

A Ming Dynasty porcelain from the reign of Tianshun and Qing emperors' inkstones are among artifacts at new exhibitions in the Palace Museum in Beijing.

A Ming Dynasty porcelain from the reign of Tianshun is among artifacts at new exhibitions in the Palace Museum in Beijing. (Photo provided to China Daily)

"One possible explanation is that emperors were unwilling to leave the information on porcelain because of continuous social upheavals," Lyu says.

Zhu Qizhen - the sixth Ming ruler, who's also known as Emperor Zhengtong - was taken by Mongols as a war prisoner during a military expedition. His younger brother, Zhu Qiyu, or emperor Jingtai, then assumed the throne.

But Zhu Qizhen returned to Beijing eight years later, reclaimed the crown and imprisoned his brother. His second reign was called Tianshun.

Only top-quality items were allowed in the Forbidden City during the Ming Dynasty.

Porcelain pieces with slight defects were broken and buried in the kiln.

This left a massive amount of abandoned pieces in Jingdezhen.

"We can determine when these pieces were produced based on the soil layers in which they're found," Lyu says.

"We have a vague understanding of these items. So the period isn't actually 'blank'."

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