Hong Kong Palace Museum: How to celebrate Lunar New Year like an Emperor

Written by Rebecca CairnsKristie Lu Stout, CNN

It’s New Years. Dressed in their best festive clothes, the 18th century family sits down to enjoy a lavish feast in a room decorated with fine signs.

The scene will see many families, both in China and around the world, enjoying their festivities, traditions and signature foods during the holiday season, which began on Sunday. But there are some big differences: This hot cup is decorated with cloisonné enamel, the signs are covered with turquoise, jade, and rubies, and the father’s choice is a silk robe with motifs dragon hand-stitched in gold thread. It’s a New Year for the Emperor.

“It’s a symphony of emotions,” said Daisy Wang, deputy director of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, where these Qing-era treasures are on display in a second-floor gallery. focusing on daily life in the Beijing palace.

“You have to think about what the emperor and his family hear, what they taste, what they touch, what they smell,” Wang said. “We must use all our senses to imagine what happened 300 years ago, in the Forbidden City.”

The $450-million facility opened last summer and includes a collection of more than 900 objects on loan from Beijing’s Forbidden City, from miniature ceramics to classical paintings. The museum is marking its first Lunar New Year by inviting visitors to witness one of China’s longest-reigning emperors celebrate the event, through fine artefacts on display.

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Explain the past

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

His reign, from 1735 to 1796, was also marked by the growth of art and thought in the country. Known to be intelligent and cultured, he published over 40,000 poems during his lifetime, and amassed a large collection of antiques and commissioned works during his six years.

Everywhere you look the Museum of the Museum of the Museum of the Museum of the Museum of the Museum of the Museum of the Museum of the Royal Palace Museum, the emperor’s penchant for beauty is evident, from panels hung with jade flowers to a golden doublet. vase decorations. The latter, encrusted with precious stones and featuring the Chinese characters for “great fortune,” include more than 60 gourd-shaped ornaments commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor to decorate the Forbidden City in during the Spring Festival in 1746 only.

Some of the New Year related items featured are golden pumpkin-style decorations.

Some of the New Year related items featured are golden pumpkin-style decorations. credit: CNN

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Like many works of art, they contain “hidden ideas,” Wang said. A symbol of fertility, pumpkin, or “feather,” a name similar to the Chinese words for “auspicious” and “wealth,” he said.

The king didn’t just indulge in the arts, however: His great taste extended to his clothing. “He didn’t order (just) one piece of clothing,” Wang said. “Two, four, six.”

Known to change her dress up to seven times a day, one standout dress on display was a dress adorned with hand-stitched wolves flying through clouds in gold thread covered.

This royal dragon robe is one of the finest ceremonial robes of the Qianlong Emperor.

This royal dragon robe is one of the finest ceremonial robes of the Qianlong Emperor. credit: CNN

Local tradition

Along with enjoying the great feasts, which often included hot spring rolls, dumplings and roasted mouse, the Emperor’s diet – and the serving dishes and utensils used – were familiar with many things. According to Wang, Qianlong loved the heat so much that he ate 200 meals in one year, which some believe contributed to his long life (he died in his eighties).

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New Year’s feasts are special for the Emperor because it is one of the few times he is allowed to eat in the same room with family and friends. “Because of safety concerns, he eats alone,” Wang said.

A large hot pot used by the Qianlong emperor.  Although it is beautifully decorated using the cloisonné technique, its copper interior is completely functional.

A large hot pot used by the Qianlong emperor. Although it is beautifully decorated using the cloisonné technique, its copper interior is completely functional. credit: CNN

The imperial objects he used, apart from being decorated and encrusted with pearls, also showed a lot of remaining traditions.

“One of the things that surprised me was how he celebrated the Lunar New Year with what we do today.

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

Watch the video above for a look inside the New Year items on display at the Hong Kong Palace Museum.

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