US-China Cooperation: Restoring Qianlong’s Secret Garden

Thirty women, China’s best embroiderers, in Nanjing, worked for one year to embroider the richly brocaded upholstery. Papermakers, working with a traditional and especially tough pulp from the mulberry tree, recreated the paper strong enough to support the Italian trompe l’oeil ceiling painting, from their papermaking studio in rural Anhui. Bamboo craft masters, recruited after a national search, prepared inner skin bamboo carving and bamboo thread marquetry with their grandparents’ tools. During the Cultural Revolution, many of these craftsmen’s parents, or grandparents, had their tools smashed. Some buried them and they survived. Many tools had been handed down for generations.

They chosen to were repair the emperor’s secret garden, Juanqinzhai. (The book🙂

juanqinzhai book

I learned about the project from a lovely documentary, The Emperor’s Secret Garden (by Mandy Chang and Zhou Bing, 2010, BSkyB Masterpiece productions). The Qianlong Emperor, who ruled around the American Revolution, was the richest and most powerful man on earth. As a highly cultured man, Qianlong wrote calligraphy, and we actually saw his handiwork on auction in NY a few months ago:

At Sotheby's Chinese calligraphy auction, NYC, Spring 2014

My son and I pretending we could afford Sotheby’s Chinese calligraphy on auction, NYC, Spring 2014. A few of Qianlong’s panels were set to fetch half a million dollars.

Qianlong, already living in earth’s largest palace, having sucked (as emperors do) the continent’s wealth, commissioned a secret garden where he envisioned retreating for a fashionable, scholar-monk-style retirement: 27 buildings, grottos and rockeries, a garden, and interiors of textile, friezes and woodwork, silk brocade so delicate it’s transparent, woven on looms 2 storeys high; a level of craftsmanship that blows the mind. Somehow, the retreat was locked up, and discovered dusty and crumbling in the early 2000s. It had been undisturbed since the 1700s. As WMF explains, it sparked one of the most awe-inspiring international  restoration projects ever.

From the World Monuments Fund slideshow on the project: A painting of the garden complex itself, and of one mural, of the royal family:

the emperors garden painting

wood panel showing royal family

The work was part of Forbidden City’s first international collaboration — and China’s first large-scale interior conservation project. The effort became a lab, and a classroom for training a young generation of Chinese conservators. But first, restoring the emperor’s secret garden required searching for what had  nearly disappeared: highly skilled traditional craftsmen and women.

Together with architects, engineers, scientists, archaeologists and curators, conservators and conservation scientists, helped by the World Monuments Fund, the hideaway was restored. Cultural heritage was strengthened. Traditional craftspeople fired up their shops. And the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing created, through Jinqinzhai, China’s first degree program in interior conservation. Which means preservation according to international standards, can begin to take hold here.

 

To see, as we have, the scale of destruction (even to this day) of the treasures scattered across mainland China is to understand what a huge big deal it is. The project also forged new levels of cooperation and trust between U.S. and China preservationists, a positive part of this emerging, fraught relationship. I expect it won’t be the last: Large sections of the Forbidden City are still in disrepair.

Qianlong Emperor (reign 1735-1799)

Qianlong Emperor (reign 1735-1799)

If you’re in China, you can go and visit, though the rooms open only part of the time.

Things in movies that take place in China


By Kenny
So you know in the new “Karate Kid,” after seeing it in China I saw it in a different way. Beijing is a lot different. The scene where he went out with his girlfriend for fun is physically not posible.

So if you remember the part where Dre and his girlfreind had maybe an hour to play hookey from school, they go from their school in the hutong (the old part of Beijing which is in the center of the city) all the way out to the Bird’s Nest on the 4th Ring Road, which is practically on the outskirts of Beijing. Then they went to Jingshan Park which is in the center by the Forbidden City and they had to climb up to the main temple to look out onto the Forbidden City and then back to the school in the hutong.

If I were to do that in a taxi it would take up to 2 hours because the taxi to the Bird’s Nest takes, on a good nontraffic day, half an hour. The walk takes 15 mins then to take another taxi to the Forbidden City to go to Jingshan Park and climb up the hill takes 5-10 mins then come down and take a taxi to the school in the hutong. On the subway there would be a lot of tranferring and the line that takes you by the Fobidden City is very crowded. It would take just as long, if not longer.

And another thing that Hollywood got wrong, so you know when Dre & Mr. Han go for the day to the kungfu temple on a mountain, by train? To get to the closest town to that mountain, in Hubei province, they would have had to take a 20-hour train ride. (Then climbing the mountain would take a while.) In the movie they are home by dark. They filmed at Wudang Shan, the temple where taichi was born. The place where kung fu was born, that’s in another province called Henan (not to get mixed up with Hainan…or Hunan).

On to another movie, “Kungfu Panda.” So if you’re wondering why Master Oogway is called Oogway: in Chinese, oogway means turtle. Master Chifu’s name, Chifu, means master in Chinese. Tailung, the bad guy, means great dragon.

I’d like to see some more Chinese action movies in America, like “Shanghai Nights.”