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National Palace Museum

History and museums
sightseeing, walking, art museum

The National Palace Museum (Chinese: 國立故宮博物院; pinyin: Guólì gùgōng bówùyuàn) is an antique museum in Shilin, Taipei, Taiwan. It is one of the national museums of the Republic of China and has a permanent collection of more than 696,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest in the world. The collection encompasses over 10,000 years of Chinese history from the Neolithic age to the late Qing Dynasty. Most of the collection are high quality pieces collected by China's ancient emperors.

The National Palace Museum and the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing, mainland China, share the same roots. The old Palace Museum in Beijing split in two as a result of the Chinese Civil War, which divided China into the two entities of the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) respectively. In English, the institution in Taipei is distinguished from the one in Beijing by the additional "National" designation. In common usage in Chinese, the institution in Taipei is known as the "Taipei Former Palace" (臺北故宮), while that in Beijing is known as the "Beijing Former Palace" (北京故宮).



Establishment in Beijing and relocation

The National Palace Museum was originally established as the Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City on 10 October 1925, shortly after the expulsion of Puyi, the last emperor of China, from the Forbidden City by warlord Feng Yü-hsiang. The articles in the museum consisted of the valuables of the former Imperial family.

In 1931, shortly after the Mukden Incident Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government ordered the museum to make preparations to evacuate its most valuable pieces out of the city to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army. As a result, from 6 February to 15 May 1933, the Palace Museum's 13,491 crates and 6,066 crates of objects from the Exhibition Office of Ancient Artifacts, the Yiheyuan and the Hanlin Yuan Imperial Academy were moved in five groups to Shanghai. In 1936, the collection was moved to Nanjing after the construction of the storage in the Taoist monastery Chaotian Palace was complete. As the Imperial Japanese Army advanced farther inland during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which merged into the greater conflict of World War II, the collection was moved westward via three routes to several places including Anshun and Leshan until the surrender of Japan in 1945. In 1947, it was shipped back to the Nanjing warehouse.

Evacuation to Taiwan

The Chinese Civil War resumed following the surrender of the Japanese, ultimately resulting in Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's decision to evacuate the arts to Taiwan. When the fighting worsened in 1948 between the Communist and Nationalist armies, the Palace Museum and other five institutions made the decision to send some of the most prized items to Taiwan. Hang Li-wu, later director of the museum, supervised the transport of some of the collection in three groups from Nanjing to the harbor in Keelung, Taiwan between December 1948 and February 1949. By the time the items arrived in Taiwan, the Communist army had already seized control of the Palace Museum collection so not all of the collection could be sent to Taiwan. A total of 2,972 crates of artifacts from the Forbidden City moved to Taiwan only accounted for 22% of the crates originally transported south, although the pieces represented some of the very best of the collection.

The collection from the Palace Museum, the Preparatory Office of the National Central Museum, the National Central Library, and the National Beiping Library was stored in a railway warehouse in Yangmei following transport across the Taiwan Strait and was later moved to the storage in cane sugar mill near Taichung. In 1949, the Executive Yuan created the Joint Managerial Office, for the Palace Museum, the Preparatory Office of the Central Museum and the Central Library to oversee the organization of the collection. For security reasons, the Joint Managerial Office chose the mountain village of Beikou, located in Wufeng, Taichung as the new storage site for the collection in the same year. In the following year, the collection stored in cane sugar mill was transported to the new site in Beikou.

With the Central Library's reinstatement in 1955, the collection from the Beiping Library was simultaneously incorporated into the Central Library. The Joint Managerial Office of the National Palace Museum and the Preparatory Office of the National Central Museum stayed in Beikou for another ten years. During the decade, the Office obtained a grant from the Asia Foundation to construct a small-scale exhibition hall in the spring of 1956. The exhibition hall, opened in March 1957, was divided into four galleries in which it was possible to exhibit more than 200 items.

In the autumn of 1960, the Office received a grant of NT$32 million from AID. The Republic of China (ROC) government also contributed more than NT$30 million to establish a special fund for the construction of a museum in the Taipei suburb of Waishuanxi. The construction of the museum in Waishuanxi was completed in August 1965. The new museum site was christened the "Chung-Shan Museum" in honor of the founding father of the ROC, Sun Yat-sen, and first opened to the public on the centenary of Sun Yat-sen's birthday. Since then, the museum in Taipei has managed, conserved and exhibited the collections of the Palace Museum and the Preparatory Office of the National Central Museum.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the National Palace Museum was used by the Kuomintang to support its claim that the Republic of China was the sole legitimate government of all China, in that it was the sole preserver of traditional Chinese culture amid social change and the Cultural Revolution in mainland China, and tended to emphasize Chinese nationalism.

The People's Republic of China (PRC) government has long said that the collection was stolen and that it legitimately belongs in China, but Taiwan has defended its collection as a necessary act to protect the pieces from destruction, especially during the Cultural Revolution. However, relations regarding this treasure have warmed in recent years and the Palace Museum in Beijing has agreed to lend relics to the National Palace Museum for exhibitions since 2009. The Palace Museum curator Zheng Xinmiao have said that the artifacts in both mainland and Taiwan museums are "China's cultural heritage jointly owned by people across the Taiwan Strait."


A number of Chinese artifacts dating from the Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty, some of which had been owned by Emperor Zhenzong, were excavated and then came into the hands of the Kuomintang General Ma Hongkui, who refused to publicize the findings. Among the artifacts were a white marble tablet from the Tang Dynasty, gold nails, and bands made out of metal. It was not until after Ma died that his wife went to Taiwan in 1971 from America to bring the artifacts to Chiang Kai-shek, who turned them over to the National Palace Museum.

Museum building

The National Palace Museum's main building in Taipei was designed by Huang Baoyu (黃寶瑜) and constructed from March 1964 to August 1965. Due to the insufficient space to put on display over 600,000 artifacts, the museum underwent expansions in 1967, 1970, 1984 and 1996. In 2002, the museum underwent a major $21-million-dollar renovation revamping the museum to make it more spacious and modern. The renovation closed about two-thirds of the museum section and the museum officially reopened in February 2007.

Permanent exhibitions of painting and calligraphy are rotated once every three months. Approximately 3,000 pieces of the museum's collection can be viewed at a given time. Although brief, these exhibitions are extremely popular. In 2014, the museum organized the top three best-attended exhibitions worldwide, including paintings and calligraphic works by Tang Yin, as well as depictions of the Qing dynasty's Qianlong Emperor reinterpreted by contemporary artists.



Complete inventory inspection has been taken three times in 1951–1954, 1989–1991 and 2008–2012 since the museum started to bring collections to Taiwan in 1948. According to official report, the museum house Chinese calligraphy, porcelain, bronzes, paintings, jades and many other artifacts, with 22% (2,972 out of 13,491 crates) of the boxes originally transported south from the Forbidden City. Other additions include transfers from other institutions, donations, and purchases made by the museum. The museum has accumulated more than 696,000 artifacts of significant historical or artistic values. With a collection of this size, only 1% of the collection is exhibited at a given time. The rest of the collection is stored in temperature controlled vaults.

Notable items

The museum houses several treasured items that are the pride of their collection and famous worldwide. They include:


The antiquities in the National Palace Museum span over thousands of years with a variety of genres.

Among the collections of bronzes, Zong Zhou Zhong (Bell of Zhou), commissioned by King Li of Zhou, is the most important musical instrument cast under his royal decree. Mao Gong Ding (Cauldron of Duke of Mao) of the late Western Zhou Dynasty (1046–771 BCE) carries the longest Chinese bronze inscriptions so far extent.

Ru wares, one of the most precious Chinese ceramics, were made exclusively for the court and were ranked among the Ding, Jun, Guan and Ge as the "five classic wares" of the Song Dynasty (960–1279). The National Palace Museum is a major collection site for the aforementioned kilns. Those from the official kilns of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, such as the doucai porcelains of the Chenghua reign in the Ming Dynasty and painted enamel porcelains from the early Qing, are also of excellent quality.

One of the most popular pieces of jade carvings in the museum is the "Jadeite Cabbage". It's a piece of jadeite carved into the shape of a cabbage head, and with a large and a small grasshopper camouflaged in the leaves. The ruffled semi-translucent leaves attached is due to the masterful combination of various natural color of the jade to recreate the color variations of a real cabbage. The "Meat-shaped Stone" is often exhibited together with the Jadeite Cabbage. A piece of jasper, a form of agate, the strata of which are cleverly used to create a likeness of a piece of pork cooked in soy sauce. The dyed and textured surface makes the layers of skin, lean meat, and fat materialized incredibly lifelike.

Other various carvings of materials such as bamboo, wood, ivory, rhinoceros horn, and fruit pits are exhibited. The "Carved Olive-stone Boat" is a tiny boat carved from an olive stone. The incredibly fully equipped skilled piece is carved with a covered deck and moveable windows. The interior has chairs, dishes on a table and eight figures representing the characters of Su Shih's Latter Ode on the Red Cliff. The bottom is carved in minute character the entire 300+ character text with the date and the artist's name.

Painting and calligraphy

The paintings in the National Palace Museum date from the Tang Dynasty (618–907) to the modern era. The collection covers over one thousand years of Chinese painting, and encompasses a wide range of genres, including landscape, flower and bird, figure painting, boundary painting, etc. Among the most famous paintings in the collection is the Qing Palace version of Zhang Zeduan's Along the River During the Qingming Festival. Even though this is a copy (the original is in the Palace Museum in Beijing), it is nevertheless regarded as an artistic masterpiece. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Wu-yung version) by Huang Gongwang of Yuan Dynasty is one of the most dramatized pieces. The museum has a vast collection of calligraphy works from the hands of major calligraphers, scholars and important courtiers in history. The calligraphy works date from the Jin (265–420) and Tang (618–907) dynasties, with a variety of styles.

Rare books and documents

Rare books in the National Palace Museum range from the Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties to the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, amounting to over 200,000 volumes. Yongle Encyclopedia and Siku Quanshu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) are among the examples.

Historical documents in the museum include Jiu Manzhou Dang, a set of Manchu archives that are the sourcebook of Manwen Laodang and a primary source of early Manchu history. Other official documents such as the court archives are available for research in the history of the Qing Dynasty.

Overseas exhibitions

Due to fears that the artifacts may be impounded and be claimed by China due to the controversial political status of Taiwan, the museum does not conduct exhibitions in mainland China. Since the museum's 1965 establishment in Taipei, the National Palace Museum has only made five large overseas exhibitions in countries which have passed laws to prevent judicial seizure of the treasures. The past five overseas events were to the United States in 1996, France in 1998, Germany in 2003, Austria in 2008 and Japan in 2014.

The past overseas exhibitions are as follows:

  • 1935: "London International Exhibition of Chinese Art" at the British Museum London.
  • 1940: "Chinese Art Exhibition" in Moscow, Leningrad.
  • 1961: "Ancient Chinese Art Exhibition" National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
  • 1973: "China Exhibition" in Seoul, South Korea.
  • 1991: "On the Occasion of 1492: the art of the Age of Exploration" at the Washington National Gallery of Art.
  • 1996: "Splendors of Imperial China" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Washington, DC National Gallery of Art exhibition.
  • 1998: "Empire of Memory" at the Grand Palais in Paris exhibition.
  • 1999: National Palace Museum exhibition in Central America.
  • 2000: "Taoism and Chinese art," Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
  • 2003: "Treasures of the Son of Heaven," the old museum in Berlin, Bonn, Federal Art Gallery touring exhibition.
  • 2005: "Museum of World Culture Expo Korea" in Korea.
  • 2005: "The Mongolian Empire - Genghis Khan and his generation" exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology in Munich, Germany.
  • 2006: "magnificent years of the Qing court (1662-1795)" exhibition at the Guimet Museum, France.
  • 2007: "Shanghai - Modern Art" exhibition in Japan.
  • 2008: "Imperial Treasures" in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna exhibition.
  • 2014: "The Treasured Masterpieces from the National Palace Museum, Taipei" in the Tokyo National Museum and Kyushu National Museum.

Other visitor facilities

Zhishan Garden

Housed within the compound of the National Palace Museum, this classical Chinese Song and Ming style garden covers 1.88 hectares (18,800 m2). It incorporates the principles of such diverse fields as feng shui, Chinese architecture, water management, landscape design, and Chinese folklore and metaphor. It contains numerous ponds, waterworks, and wooden Chinese pavilions. It was completed and opened in 1985. There is also another Chinese Style Garden nearby called the Shuangxi Park and Chinese Garden.

Chang Dai-chien residence

The National Palace Museum also maintains the residence of renowned Chinese painter Chang Dai-chien. The residence, known as the Chang Dai-chien Residence or the Abode of Maya, was constructed in 1976 and completed in 1978. It is a two-story Siheyuan building with Chinese-style gardens occupying approximately 1,911 m². After Chang's death in 1983, the house and gardens were donated to the National Palace Museum and turned into a museum and memorial.

Future expansions

Southern Branch

The National Palace Southern Branch will be located in Taibao, Chiayi County, Taiwan and set on 70 hectares (700,000 m2) of land. Besides the museum, there will be a lake and Asian style garden. The Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum is an institution conceived for the promotion of Asian arts and culture. The building was to be designed by architect Antoine Predock and began construction in 2005. However, due to serious construction delays and disputes between the contractors and the museum, the firm pulled out in 2008. Museum director Chou Kung-shin stated in August 2010 that new architects for the project would commence, with construction expected to be completed in 2015. The project is expected to cost NT$7.9 billion (US$268 million) and spread over 70 hectares (700,000 m2). It will be designed by the Taiwan-based firm Artech Inc. and will be both earthquake resistant and flood resistant.

Grand Palace Museum Project

The Grand Palace Museum Project, officially launched in 2011, is a plan to expand the exhibition area in Taipei and improve the environment. The total budget for renovation should be around 10 to 12 billion NT dollars. ||| Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 ||| Public domain ||| Public domain ||| Public domain ||| Public domain ||| Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 ||| Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 ||| Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

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