Hong Kong Palace Museum: How To Celebrate Lunar New Year Like An Emperor

Hong Kong Palace Museum: How To Celebrate Lunar New Year Like An Emperor

Written by rebecca cairnsKristie Lu Stout, CNN

It’s Lunar New Year. Donning their festive best, an 18th-century family sits down to a lavish banquet in a room adorned with auspicious signs.

This scene will be familiar to many of the families, across China and the world, who enjoy their own festivities, traditions and symbolic meals during the festive period, which began on Sunday. But there are some significant differences: This hot plate is decorated with cloisonné enamel, the signs are inlaid with turquoise, jade, and rubies, and the patriarch’s fashion choice is a dragon-patterned silk robe hand-stitched with gold thread. It’s a Lunar New Year fit for an emperor.

“It’s a symphony of the senses,” said Daisy Wang, deputy director of Hong Kong’s Palace Museum, where these Qing-dynasty-era treasures are displayed in a second-floor gallery focused on everyday life in Beijing’s imperial palace. .

“You have to imagine what the emperor and his family would hear, what they would taste, what they would touch, what aromas they would smell,” Wang added. “We have to use all our senses to imagine what happened 300 years ago, inside the Forbidden City.”

The $450 million building opened last summer and has a rotating collection of more than 900 treasures on loan from Beijing’s Forbidden City, from rare ceramics to delicate scroll paintings. The museum is celebrating its first Lunar New Year by inviting visitors to see how one of China’s oldest emperors celebrated the occasion through the auspicious items on display.

decoding the past

The fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty, the Qianlong Emperor, was “one of the most powerful rulers on Earth in the 18th century,” Wang said. “He ruled over a vast territory, with a population of probably more than 300 million.” .

His reign, from 1735 to 1796, was also marked by the flourishing of the arts and creativity in the country. Known for being erudite and cultured, he published more than 40,000 poems during his lifetime and amassed an enormous collection of commissioned and ancient Imperial artworks during his six-decade rule.

Everywhere you look at the Palace Museum exhibit, the emperor’s penchant for luxury is on display, from hanging panels with jade floral motifs to a pair of golden jewels. pumpkin decorations. The latter, which are inlaid with semi-precious stones and feature the Chinese characters for “great fortune”, are among more than 60 gourd-shaped decorations commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor to grace the Forbidden City during the Spring Festival of 1746 alone.

Some notable Lunar New Year-related items on display include a pair of golden pumpkin-shaped decorations.

Some notable Lunar New Year-related items on display include a pair of golden pumpkin-shaped decorations. Credit: CNN

As with many works of art, they contain “hidden meanings,” Wang said. A symbol of fertility, bottle gourds, or “hulu,” have a name that sounds similar to the Chinese words for “auspicious” and “wealth.” added.

However, the emperor wasn’t just commissioning works of art: his extravagant taste extended to his wardrobe. “(He) never ordered (just) one piece of clothing,” Wang said. “It always had to be two, four, six.”

Known for changing his outfit up to seven times a day, a standout piece of clothing on display in the exhibition is a robe adorned with intricately hand-stitched dragons flying among wispy clouds draped in gold thread.

This majestic dragon robe was one of the Qianlong Emperor's best festive garments.

This majestic dragon robe was one of the Qianlong Emperor’s best festive garments. Credit: CNN

Family traditions

With a taste for grand banquets, which often included stews, dumplings, and roast duck, the Emperor’s culinary habits, and the dishes and utensils used for serving, will be familiar to many. According to Wang, Qianlong loved the stew so much that he ate 200 of those meals in a year, which some people believe contributed to his longevity (he died in the late 1980s).

Lunar New Year parties were particularly special to the Emperor because it would be one of the few occasions when he was allowed to eat in the same room as family and friends. “For security reasons, he usually ate alone,” Wang said.

An extravagant stew used by the Qianlong Emperor.  While beautifully decorated using the cloisonné technique, its copper interior makes it fully functional.

An extravagant stew used by the Qianlong Emperor. While beautifully decorated using the cloisonné technique, its copper interior makes it fully functional. Credit: CNN

The imperial items she wore, in addition to being gold-plated and jewel-encrusted, also reveal how many traditions have remained the same.

“One of the things that surprised me is how similar the way you celebrate Lunar New Year is to our current practice.

“I hope that visitors will come and connect these ancient objects with their own lives.”

Watch the video above to see inside the Lunar New Year memorabilia on display at the Hong Kong Palace Museum.

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