By Paul Surtees | China Daily Asia | Updated: 2022-06-15 10:07
Lovers of art and history in Hong Kong are soon to be served up a delectable cultural treat. The long-awaited opening of the Hong Kong Palace Museum comes on July 2. An exemplary range of concessionary entry tickets will be on offer, plus free entry to everyone one day a week.
We all know that China has a recorded history stretching back some 5,000 years, and indeed these historic loan items now being put on display here in Hong Kong come from different epochs over that extended time range. Some 900 cultural works have come here on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing.
That fantastically rich and varied cultural resource in the capital includes about 1.8 million items. Of course, it is not possible to put all of these collections on display all together at the same time. Sending out loan exhibitions gives the chance for more viewers to enjoy them, including items from their overflowing storerooms. For centuries, that special collection has been held in Beijing, and most of the items in that vast collection originated in the collections of the imperial households: the royal collections. The well-preserved and impressive ancient buildings of the Forbidden City in Beijing are an attraction to visitors in themselves, as well as housing these massive art collections.
As one of the first of the major arts projects to be opened at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, the Hong Kong Palace Museum will put on changing temporary displays of objects on loan from other places. This first loan exhibition will be here for about a year. The cultural sharing that such loan exhibitions represent will do much to enrich the cultural diversity of Hong Kong.
As a building specially designed to house such works of beauty, some would however have preferred that our West Kowloon Palace Museum building itself had been designed with less resemblance to a corrugated cardboard box, and more to a beautiful treasure box! Thankfully, the beauty will be found inside, in the many attractive and fascinating cultural items displayed within that unattractive structure.
Treasures from another large previously royal collection are also coming here, on loan from Paris, from the world-famous collection of the Louvre Museum, which itself holds some 380,000 objects, of which only about 10 percent are able to be put on display there at any one time.
Over recent years, outstanding loan exhibits have been put on in Hong Kong — for example, with items shown here coming from Italy and from ancient Egypt. Loan art exhibitions from many other parts of the world would be welcome, and Hong Kong’s new Palace Museum will now become the dedicated place to display them.
After the civil war in China, some 700,000 of the best items from the imperial art collections from the Forbidden City were removed to eventually end up in yet another palace museum built in Taipei, which itself is a magnificent collection.
There are those who seek to make up political points of controversy about the holding and the exchange of these collections of cultural treasures. In my opinion, we should treasure all these breathtaking collections as being the birthright of all the Chinese people, and keep politics away from that shared cultural heritage. The organizers of these extensive and extended loans are to be thanked for their long-term planning and eventually fruitful efforts.
Now that this cultural-exchange ball has started rolling, in bringing these precious objects to Hong Kong from other places, what a fine thing it would be if the 900-odd items now temporarily going on display in Hong Kong were to be later forwarded on loan to the palace museum in Taipei. And that collection, held in Taiwan, could in return send some hundreds of their choice items on loan to Hong Kong; and perhaps also, later to Beijing as well. Such cultural exchanges might well serve to help to bring about a better atmosphere of cooperation, at least in the world of culture.
It may be hoped that many educational school and college trips will be arranged to view these lovely and ancient exhibits in West Kowloon, so that many in Hong Kong’s coming generations will be able to better appreciate the shared culture of the Chinese people.
The author is a veteran commentator on the arts scene in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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