24 May 2019
Hong Kong Heritage Museum has recreated the Hall of Mental Cultivation's Central Hall where Qing emperors met their mandarins and held official meetings. Photo: GovHK
Hong Kong Heritage Museum has recreated the Hall of Mental Cultivation's Central Hall where Qing emperors met their mandarins and held official meetings. Photo: GovHK

A peep into the treasures and lives of Qing emperors

Located next to the Palace of Heavenly Purity in the inner courtyard of the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Hall of Mental Cultivation was where Qing emperors spent a lot time and wielded their power.

From the 18th century onward, since the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor, the Hall became the living quarters of eight Qing dynasty emperors. The hall has a front lobby, where the emperor discussed state affairs with his mandarins, and a rear suite that served as the emperor’s bedroom.

History and art connoisseurs now have an opportunity to travel back in time to see how the Qing rulers lived and worked, thanks to an exhibition that opened in Hong Kong. 

The thematic exhibition “Hall of Mental Cultivation of The Palace Museum – Imperial Residence of Eight Emperors” features dedicate, true-to-life replicas of furnishings from the old Chinese seat of power, reflecting different tastes and personalities of the emperors.

Hosted by the Hong Kong government’s Leisure & Cultural Services Department in association with the Beijing Palace Museum, the exhibition is on at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Shatin.

Modest monarch

Among the exhibits, a plaque on the wall bears the calligraphic inscription Zhong Zheng Ren He, meaning “justice and benevolence”, said to be written by Emperor Yongzheng himself.

In the West Warmth Chamber where Emperor Yongzheng also used as his office and study, there was another plaque with the calligraphic inscription Qin Zheng Qin Xian which means “diligent in affairs and keeping the worthy close”, reflecting the ruler’s good work ethic.

“He had high demands on himself, striving to be a pragmatic emperor with his people’s interests at heart. A disciplined ruler, he worked late into the night nearly every day during his 13 years on the throne,” said Museum of Art Assistant Curator Sunny Tang.

Yongzheng’s successor Qianlong, who was known for his flirtations with art, poetry and calligraphy, built the Room of Three Rarities to serve as his private office. 

Among his collections are three precious works by Eastern Jin calligrapher Wang Xizhi, dating more than 1,600 years ago. He stored the treasures in the Room of Three Rarities, featuring elegant furnishings. Visitors can see the many antiques, plaques, couplets and wall vases that the unconventional emperor used to decorate the room.

Curtain call

Located to the east of the Hall of Mental Cultivation, the East Warmth Chamber witnessed the reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, the extravagant tyrant who was blamed by historians for causing the Qing dynasty’s decline and eventual demise.

As regents to young emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu, Cixi and Cian ruled the central kingdom from behind a curtain screen. Visitors can see this unique arrangement at the exhibition.

Besides recreating the original setting of the hall, the show features more than 200 precious artifacts from the Palace Museum, many of which are being exhibited outside Beijing for the very first time.

Among them is the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability, inlaid with gemstones, for emperors to drink from the cup during a ceremony on the first day of the Lunar New Year for good fortune.

There are only four of these goblets existing in the world.

The emperors first filled the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability with wine and drank from the golden cup which symbolised the political stability and permanence of the monarchy and Qing dynasty.

The “Hall of Mental Cultivation” exhibition will run until October 15.

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Office and the internal furnishings used by Emperor Yongzheng, with his calligraphy plaque hung in the middle, which read "justice and benevolence". Photo: GovHK

The exhibition of treasures and office of eight Qing emperors is being held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Shatin. Photo: GovHK

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