National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) [Taipei kong mahal 180606: Asian Treasures] | Travel in Asia

Monday, June 4, 2018

National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) [Taipei kong mahal 180606: Asian Treasures]


The National Palace Museum (NPM).  A big building full of precious items dating back from the Neolithic Period to the Qing dynasty.  Ranked as the 13th most visited museum in the world, according to the 12th annual Theme Index and Museum Index.  It is also one of the top attractions to see in Taipei when visiting the city for the first time.  Amazing pieces of ceramics, bronze and jade items await you in this one of a kind of place on Earth.   Would you want to explore its galleries and take pictures?  Oh! I'm sure you will do especially when your ticket is free.

ticket booth at the first floor

“Student in Taiwan? Your admission is free!”,  I got surprised by these words of the NPM staff.  When I went the “National Palace” for the first for my first time in 2014, I was asked to pay the discounted ticket worth NTD 150.  Fast forward to 2018, a change of policy allowed international students to explore the galleries free of charge.  I felt honored and blessed, when the staff stamped my hand after showing my student ID at the entrance.  Haha!

pottery figure of a lady playing polo game in sancai tri-color glaze
Tang dynasty
618 - 907 B.C.E.

Left: silver cloissone square gu vessel with animal-mask decoration, middle to late 18th century, Qing dynasty
Right: cloisonne zun vessel in the form of a heavenly bird, middle to late century, Qing dynasty.

planter with coral carving of the planetary deity Kuixing, Qing dynasty

pair of golden gourds representing a myriad generations of descendants, Qing dynasty

seated buddhas on a lotus mandala gilt bronze, 17th to 18th century, Tibet

Amitabha Buddha Gilt bronze, 12th century, Tibet

Virudhaka Lokapala gilt bronze, Ming dynasty, 15th century, Tibet

Mahakala gilt bronze, 15th century, Tibet

Shakyamuni Buddha gilt bronze, Northern Wei dynasty, dated 477

From “For your eyes only” to “No Selfie”.  The museum now allows its visitors to take pictures of its collections.  Poor coverage in social media and blogs might be the reason why the administration changed its mind.  There were still limitations for visitors like restricting the use of tripods and selfie sticks.  The policy can still change at any time so I have to be quick and take lots of pictures while there is still an opportunity.

Of the hundreds of thousands of items inside, two are considered to be the very best.  Behold the meat-shaped stone and the jade cabbage.   The star pieces of the National Palace Museum. 

meat-shaped stone, Qing dynasty

Juicy pork. The brown colored stone looks like a piece of cooked meat that had been soaked in soy sauce overnight.  Layers in that small piece of rock created an illusion of a flesh underneath a layer of fat.   If you will look closely and use a magnifying glass, you will observe tiny pores on the stone that help it give a texture of an animal's flesh.

jade cabbage, Qing dynasty

Green leafy vegetable.  The jade cabbage (or lettuce for others) is unique for its lifelike resemblance of an actual Chinese cabbage.  Let your eyes gaze at the stem first and then upwards to the leaves.  You would notice a grasshopper that camouflages itself as part of the cabbage.  Carved from a type of hard jade, it symbolizes fertility and promises a good number of sons and daughters for anyone who has it.  According to scholars, a concubine from the Qing dynasty who had lived in the Forbidden City probably owns the magical vegetable.

jade bixie auspicious beast
Eastern Han dynasty
25 - 220 C.E.

jade bixie auspicious beast
Western Han dynasty
206 B.C.E. - 8 C.E.

Opinions vary whether there are other items in the museum that also deserves the recognition of being a star piece.   Just take for example the "jade bixie auspicious beast".  Like the juicy pork and the magical cabbage, the item was also made from jade.  At first glance, it looks ordinary, but stare at the rare carved stone for five minutes and you would observe how intricate the design of the head was.  Its brownish body becomes dark on the edges indicating a complex technique on how it was colored.  So it can be said that it's also equivalent with the meat-shaped stone and the jade cabbage, in terms of craftsmanship.  

Pillow in the shape of a recumbent child
Ding ware, Northern Song dynasty
12th century
vase with "One hundred deer" in wucai painted enamels
Ming dynasty, Wanli region
1573 - 1620

flower-shaped vase with fish and dragon on a green ground
Qing dynasty, Guanxu reign
1874 - 1908

hatstand with openwork of dragon and clouds in fencai polychrome enamels
Qing dynasty, Qianlong reign
1736 - 1795

revolving vase with swimming fish in cobalt blue gaze
Qing dynasty, Qianlong reign
1736 - 1795

lidded  box with birds and flowers on a lake-green ground and yangcai polychrome enamels
Qing dynasty, Guangxu reign
1874 - 1908

pots with incised lotus petal decorations in red and cobalt blue glaze
Ming dynasty, Xuande reign
1426 - 1435

square vase with animal mask in turquoise blue gaze
Qing dynasty, Kangxi reign
1662 - 1722

lidden jar with dragons in doucai painted enamels and tian mark
Ming dynasty, Chenghua reign
1465 - 1487

lidded jar with clouds and dragon in overglaze yellow on a red ground
Ming dynasty, Jiajing reign
1522 - 1566

Handle with care.  Oh! Those fragile ceramics of the National Palace Museum.  They come in a variety of colors and shapes.   From the earthen jars in the Neolithic Period to the products of technological advancements of clay molding and glazing during the Ming and Sung dynasty,  one must definitely admit that Asia has a fragile history. 

gourd-shaped vase with European women and flowers in falangcai polychrome enamels
Qing dynasty, Qianlong region
1736 - 1795

lidded twin conjoined vase with birds and flowers in falangcai polychrome enamels
Qing dynasty, Qianlong reign
1736 - 1795

vase with a sash and Indian lotus scrolls in fencai polychrome enamels
Qing dynasty, Jiaqing reign
1796 - 1820

Zun vessel with red glaze
Qing dynasty, Kangxi reign

white pottery guei-pitcher
Neolithic Dawenko culture
4300 - 2500 B.C.E.

The drawings and designs on the vases and cups give a clue about the origin of a certain ceramic or enamelware.   Arabic scripts indicate the influence of traders from the Middle East and the emergence of Islam.   Multi-color images on chinawares meant a complicated dyeing technique that a certain group of artisans only knew.  Those with only one color can tell the era when it was made.   A white glaze could indicate that it was made from Sung dynasty, while a rounded vase immersed in deep red color means a work done during the Qing dynasty.

ivory balls of nested concentric layers with human figures in openwork relief
second half of the 19th century

Notes on a scandal.  On one gallery of the museum are ivory carvings made from tusks of elephants.  Splendid as it may seem, but with their number it is hard to imagine how many elephants were slaughtered just for their tusks.  So visitors are reminded that the ivories displayed in NPM were imported from Africa and the tradition of carving on bones started in the Neolithic period and reached its peak during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

bronze wine vessels

Nao bells with animal mask pattern
Late Shang dynasty
13th to 11th century B.C.E.

"Zi-fan" chimes

Yi water vessel of Yi-yue
Mid Western  Zhou dynasty
10th to 9th century BC

Metal power.   Aside from the ceramics and countless calligraphy records, NPM boasts a collection of bronze vessels and bells.   The metal alloy composed primarily of copper was a material of choice for weaponry in China until it has found its use as vessels, bells, and cooking pots.

zong-zhou zhong
late Western Zhou dynasty
9th century - 771 B.C.E.

mao-gong ding
late Western Zhou dynasty
9th century to 771 B.C.E.

zun wine vessel in the shape of an animal with metal wire and turquoise inlay
Mid Warring States Period
4th to 3rd century B.C.E.

The chung (bell), tsun (ritual wine vessel) and ting (tripod vessel) were some of the most important bronze artifacts in the galleries of the third floor.  If you find these stuff boring, focus your attention on the hsi-tsun (animal-shaped vessel).  It can be mistaken as a toy because of its cuteness but it functions as a wine-vessel.  Decorated with drawings on its body, patches of green rust intrigues anyone who looks at it. 

The entire National Palace Museum is too big to be explored in just one hour.  If you want to maximize your visit, set three to four hours for a half-day tour.   Those who easily get tired can rest at the benches in specific areas.  Guided tours are also offered but a reservation is needed.  Tourists who can't get enough of their experience can check the galleries at the Exhibition Area II Building.  

Souvenir shop at the basement lobby of NPM.   You can also find other stores in the upper floors of the museum.

set of four gold overlay buttons inlaid with seed pearls
Qing dynasty, 18th to 19th century
work of the Muslim regions

birch-park phoenix finial with gold inlay
Qing dynasty, 18th to 19th century
Qing court work

Before you go home why not check the souvenir shop.  Popular items in the store are keychain replicas of the meat-shaped stone and the jade cabbage.  I bought a memento when I visited the NPM during my first visit and I still have it up to now.   Why not purchase one for yourself before you leave?  Buying them helps support the operations of the National Palace Museum,  the home of the greatest Asian treasures. 


National Palace Museum
address: No. 221, Sec 2, Zhi Shan Rd, Shilin District, Taipei City, 111
[Google Map]

Exhibition 1 Main Building
Open: everyday from 8:30 to 18:30, all year-round
           extension from 18:30 to 21:00 every Friday and Saturday

Adult tickets: NTD 350

How to get here:  MRT Jiantan Station (Red Line) -> Bus Red 30 -> NPM basement lobby

Museum floor plan

B1F   Children's Gallery,  Multimedia Auditorium

1F   Room 102 Orientation Gallery
       Room 103, 104  Rare Books and Historical Documents Galleries
       Room 105  Special Exhibition Galleries
       Room 106   ivory collections
       Room 108   Qing furniture
       Room 101   Buddhas

2F    Room 203   Antiques
        Room 201, 205, 207  Ceramics
        Room 202, 204, 206, 208, 210, 212  Painting and Calligraphy

3F    Room 302  jade cabbage and meat-shaped stone
        Room 301  bronze bell and cauldron
        Room 305, 307  other bronze collections
        Room 303, 304  antiques
        Room 306, 308  jade

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