Sharing Treasures, A Special Exhibition of Antiquities Donated Collection, Taiwan National Palace Museum

Collecting and preserving cultural relics is one of the main tasks for a museum institution. In addition to inheriting the Qing imperial collection, the National Palace Museum acquires cultural articles by two other means—purchase and donation—to enrich its collections. Among various types of acquisition, acceptance of donations is one of the main sources for the Museum collection.

Since the establishment of the National Palace Museum in 1925, 130 donations of antiquities have been collected. The sources of these donations may be divided into three types. One is family heritage of the founders of the Republic of China. With remarkable achievements in politics, military affairs, literature, and arts, the histories of the donors—including Chi Hsing-fu (1909-1996) and Tann Yen-k’ai (1880-1930)—are colorful. What they donated are considered the continuation of the Museum collection that were received mainly from the Qing imperial collection. Another type is the artistic works by Chang Dai-ch’ien (1899-1983), Wang Chuang-wei (1909-1998), and other artists. They donated their extraordinary creations to the Museum to be appreciated by the pubic. The third type is the fine pieces from the collections of Umehara Sueji (1893-1983), Dr. Ip Yee (1919-1984), Peng Kai-dong (1912-2006), and other connoisseurs. These donations also enhance the Museum collection.

With donations from all walks of life, the collection of the National Palace Museum is getting more and more abundant and diverse. The accepted articles have been accumulated up to 4,188 pieces. The items of this exhibition, following the structure of the permanent exhibit of antiquities, are grouped and displayed by materials: ceramics, bronzes and jade objects, and curios. Owing to the limited space, only the concise works are presented. Those not on display are illustrated with images by a chronological list based on the time of donations to evidence the selflessness of the donors.

Of all the ceramic items in the National Palace Museum, mainly featuring the Qing royal collection, imperial wares of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) make up the largest portion, and the best-known pieces are those from the kilns of the Song (960-1279). The donations enhance the diversity and completeness of the Museum collection.

The selected ceramics are exhibited by two themes: “the selections of donations of ceramics in all the past dynasties” and “the beauty of life in modern times.” Articles from the Neolithic period (circa 8500-1500 b.c.e.) to the Qing dynasty are displayed in the section of “the selections of donations of ceramics in all the past dynasties.” One may catch a glimpse of the development of Chinese ceramics by appreciating these pieces together with those in the gallery of the permanent exhibit of ceramics. Furthermore, different from the items of imperial wares in the Museum collection, one may observe the simplicity of these present pieces and features of local kilns. The section of “the beauty of life in modern times” exhibits sets of porcelain wares for daily use made in the 19th and 20th centuries. The tableware for celebrating holidays and festivals, and ceramic tiles, bowls, and dishes with auspicious designs reveal a happy and gorgeous air.

White pottery guei-pitcher
Da-Wen-Kou Culture Period in Neolithic Age
Donated by Mr. Hsu Chou-Li
This white pottery guei-pitcher is made by hand using the clay-based soil from Gaoling, and is shaped like a bird craning its neck in song. With two feet in front and one foot behind, its spout resembles a beak raised to the air. It has an open mouth and narrow neck; the junction of the neck and abdomen is decorated with five winding cords. The upper-half of the abdomen is a plump, semi-circular shape, with a small round button, and a rope-shaped cord rises from the center of the abdomen. A flat pan connects the neck and abdomen, and the bottom half of the abdomen is connected to three hollow, cone-shaped feet.

Pottery guei-pitchers are a kind of late Neolithic earthenware container, and were usually made from sand or clay; they could be red, gray, black or white in color. Pottery guei-pitchers have been excavated in such Dawenkou Culture sites as Dawenkou of Taian, Shandong Province, Dazhu Village of Juxian, Xixiahou of Qufu, Yedian of Zouxian, Wangyin of Yanzhou, Donghaiyu of Rizhao and Sanliho of Jiaoxian. They were also frequently seen in Longshan Culture sites of Shandong that followed Dawenkou Culture, for example pottery guei-pitchers with fascinating designs have all been found in Ziyai of Zhangqiu City in Shandong Province, Yiaoguanzhuang of Weifang, Liangchen Village in Rizhao, Yinjiachen in Sishui and Xiwusi of Duizhou. Production of pottery guei-pitchers gradually declined towards late Xia and early Shang Dynasties. Both Dawenkou Culture and Shandong-Longshan Culture were cultural representatives of the late Neolithic Age in lower Yellow River area, and were dated around 4100~2000 BC. These Cultures flourished in today’s Shandong, northern Jiangsu, eastern Henan, northern Anhui, and the Liaodong Peninsula.

Pottery horse and figurine in sancai tri-color glaze
Tang Dynasty
Donated by Mr. Lin Yu-tang
This Pottery horse and figurine in sancai tri-color glaze from Tang Dynasty wears a headdress, a long robe, with a broad waistband and boots. His arms are slightly bent beside his waist, fingers crooked as if holding reins. His feet are set firmly inside stirrups and he sits in his saddle in a majestic pose. The horse appears highly alert, its ears pointed; the mane is brushed to either side of its forehead, and it gazes slightly to the left. The horse is balanced in body, with vigorous carriage and a short tail. It has been set on top of a thin stand. Both the horse and the rider are made of yellow clay, with an initial layer of white decorative clay and then covered in low-temperature lead glaze. The horse is primarily brown in color, while the figurine is primarily in green; the combination of brown, green, yellow and white is showcased by the bright, rich glaze. The face and hands of the rider had probably been painted in color originally, but unfortunately this coloring no longer remains.

During Tang Dynasty, nobles and high officials were accustomed to be buried with a large number of objects. At the time, “competing for the grandest of funerals was the norm, and life-like figurines, horses and other carvings were used to boast to passers-by”. The trend for grand funerals gave rise to highly decorated, life-like figurines, and the tri-color shows burial in vogue in the case of biological or works of a large number of beautifully decorated also came into being. When the three-color ceramic figurines from the height of Tang Dynasty perfectly reflected the prominent political and economical status of the nobles and high officials, as well as demonstrating the intentions of the tomb-owner to carry his power and wealth to the afterlife.

Pillow with black painted bird-and-flower decoration
Cizhou ware, Jin-Yuan Dynasties
Donated by Mr. Gui-liang
This porcelain pillow is octagonal in shape, with the long side and the pillow face slightly concaved. White glaze is applied to the entire pillow, with black glaze painted around the borders, and the top and sides of the pillow are painted with birds and flowers, creating the visually stunning effect of black flowers on a white base. Porcelain pillows can be used as a sleeping pillow, reclining pillow or wrist rest, or be buried with burial objects or used as a pulse-taking pillow by Chinese medicine practitioners. They have been used since the Sui Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, reaching the height of popularity during the Song Dynasty. Cizhou porcelain pillows come in a wide variety of shapes and forms, and may be rectangular, round-waisted, cloud0shaped, petal-shaped, heart-shaped, hexagonal, octagonal or silver bullion shaped. When making the porcelain pillow, white decorative clay is used in combination with decorative techniques such as painting, carving, filagree and color painting, to create a color contrast between the patterning and the item itself. The themes of the decorations are mostly scenes from everyday life or poetry, and there are special workshops dedicated to the making of porcelain pillows.

In his poem “Thanks to Master Huang for the Gift of Green Porcelain Pillow”, Zhang Lei of Northern Song Period had written: “Porcelain made by the Gong people is strong and blue, and an old friend has given it to me for anti-inflammatory steaming. When one carries it into a room, the room is immediately cooled by a breeze. This amazing clay item keeps one’s head cool and the hair cold”, showing that porcelain pillows had once been gifts amongst the Song literati. In “Eight Instructions” by Gao Lian of the Ming Dynasty, there was also mention that porcelain pillows had the benefit of “clarifying the eyes, so that one is able to read tiny writing in the night”. The collection of Qing Palace items held by the National Palace Museum not only includes a number of porcelain pillows, poetry by the Emperor Qianlong also included more than 20 verses related to porcelain pillows, demonstrating that this is an everyday item favored by ordinary people, literati and royals alike.

Box with impressed crab decoration in yellow glaze
Ming Dynasty (17th Century)
Donated by Dr. Ip Yee
This box with impressed crab decoration in yellow glaze is rounded in shape, slightly flat and carries a lid. Yellow glaze has been applied to both the body of the box and the outer face of the lid, and vertical patterns are directly embossed to both the top and bottom of the box to resemble a chrysanthemum in full bloom. The center of the lid is applied with purple-brown glaze and engraved with a crab pattern. Yellow glaze has also been applied to the insides of the short, rounded feet of the box, but not as thickly, so that one can vaguely see the powdery white color of the clay underneath.

This type of low-temperature colored lacquerware produced in southern China during the Ming and Qing Dynasties is referred to as “Southern Chinese Tri-color”. Many were exported to Japan as tea wares during the first half of the 17th century, and during their early days the lidded boxes amongst them were called “Jiaozhi scent boxes”. Investigation and archaeological excavations in recent years have shown that Hexian of Zhangping in Fujian Province was probably one of the origins of this type of items, and production had continued from late 16th to the 17th century. Similar low-temperature, color lacquer lidded boxes have also been found in sites of the abandoned Fushimi City of Kyoto (1623) and the moat surrounding Osaka (1615) in Japan. These were also important indicators for determining the production period of these items.

Brush holder with pine tree pattern in polychrome
Qing Dynasty
Donated by Mr. Zhu Ming-yuan
This plain polychrome brush holder is made to resemble a tree trunk, and the craftsman has even relief-carved a winding pine tree to cling to the trunk in a very elegant manner. Plain tri-color is a way of color-painting porcelain items on top of the glaze layer. The plain porcelain base is first made by baking in high temperature; after the glaze has been applied, the item is then baked in low-temperature. “Plain” is generally used to mean that red is not used, or that the ceramic base is plain. “Tri-color” refers to mainly eggplant, yellow and green, although in actual fact other colors are also used.

This brush holder resembles a yellow tree trunk, and the clinging pine tree is decorated with green pine leaves and eggplant-colored tree trunk. The purple and white floating clouds suggest the image of towering pine trees. The entire item is finely carved, its layers clearly distinguishable, and the glaze is lustrous and three-dimensional. The bark, marks and pine leaves on the tree were all realistically depicted, making this one of the most exquisite masterpieces of its kind.

Curios are often characterized by miscellaneous functions. They are principally composed of implements for study studios, including ink sticks, ink stones, paperweights and seals. They also include carved works for display and items for daily use, such as costume, accessories, and snuff bottles. Among a total of about 1,000 pieces, seals are in major proportion. Curios also feature various materials; many of them are made of compound materials of jade, stone, ivory, bones, and metal. In this section, the excavated glass articles dating to the Warring States period (c.a. 475-221 b.c.e.) are priceless. The zither and inkstones of Duan River stones are the fine works in study studios. The delicate ivory plaques for playing chess and a cricket container present the leisure life of ancient Chinese. In addition to demonstrating the beauty of seals, the maestros’ seals not only evidence the histories of their masters but also reveal the refined spirit of Chinese scripts and unique beauty of lines.

Bone knife with stone blades
Late Neolithic Period
Donated by Mr. Chin Hsiao-yi
This bone knife is long in shape and was made by polishing an animal limb bone. A groove was dug into the blade portion, which was then embedded with several pieces of sharpened stone; there is a rectangular shaped groove and a hole at one end of the bone handle, to enable the user to hang or intercalate the knife. The blade and stone pieces exhibited here were repaired by posterity on the basis of other similar items excavated, while the red pendant ornament was woven by Mr. Chen Xia-Sheng. The original collector had had a turtle-patterned brocade box made particularly to house the knife, and on the box was annotated: “Bone knife with stone blades from late Neolithic Age. The handle is made of a thigh bone, sharpened and hiding the blade beautifully. Looking back at the skills of the ancients now, certainly they were not plain and simple! Annotated by Chin Hsiao-yi in winter of bing-zi year.”

This kind of bone-made items imbedded with stone pieces or stone leaves are also referred to as “stone blade with bone handle” or “bone handle with stone blade”, and were made from polishing animal bones and refining stone wares. This kind of items began appearing during the late Paleolithic Age, about 10,000 years ago, and first appeared in inner Mongolia, and then spread to the northeast, northwest, and southwest. Scholars believe that the stone blade bone knife was an item personally carried by the prehistoric ancestors, possibly used for skinning and cutting up slaughtered animals, or as a utensil when eating meat.

Glass beads
Warring States Period
Donated by Mr. Umehara Sueji (Japan)
This glass beads from the Warring States Period is rounded, brown in color with traces of yellow and green, its surface smoothly polished, and a round hole has been drilled in its center. It is covered in black whirlpool patterns, with a black dot at the center of each whirlpool pattern, surrounded by in concentric circular patterns in striated shades. Academic research indicate that the production of glass in China was strongly related to the making of bronze wares, but the technology was probably not yet ripe at the time. Early glass items were principally glass tubes or beads, extremely brittle, and were frequently found in early tombs from the Western Zhou. They were strung together either by themselves or with agate, turquoise or other beads to make head or neck ornaments, and were used by nobles, high officials, royals and military generals at the time.

According to “Huainanzi”: “With the ‘Bead of Suiho’ and “Jade Pi of Ho’, one who gains them will become prosperous, one who loses them will become impoverished.” In ancient times the “Bead of Suiho” and “Jade Pi of Ho” were referred to as the twin treasures of the Spring and Autumn Period. 73 glass beads were excavated from a single Warring States tomb of Zhenho alone; since Zhenho is also referred to as Suiho, archaeologists speculate that glass beads may be the “Beads of Suiho” on par with the “Jade Pi of Ho” in the Spring and Autumn Period. In consideration of the fact that the National Palace Museum has no similar items in its collection, the Japanese archaelogist, Umehara Sueji, has very kindly donated two glass beads from the Warring States Period to enrich the collection of the Museum.

Umehara Sueji is a native of Habikino City, Osaka, and professor emeritus at Kyoto University. After dedicated research of ancient tombs in Japan, he then threw himself to studying the bronze cultures of East Asia. He is extremely knowledgeable about Shang and Zhou Dynasty bronzes, bronze mirrors of the Warring States to Wei, Jin and South and North Periods, as well as lacquerware from Han Dynasty.

Duan river inkstone
Qing Dynasty
Donated by sisters Huang Li-jung and Huang Wen-ju
This is the “duan river inkstone” that was part of Huang Jie’s collection in his lifetime. The ancients referred to stone as “yungen” (roots of clouds), implying that clouds were produced by touching the clouds. This inkstone is dark purple in color and carved into the shape of four clouds of varying sizes; the body of the inkstone is decorated with light and deep relief patterns in the shape of clouds of varying height and size. Many of the cloud patterns are annotated with text of varying scripts; for example, at the upper left of the ink grinding portion is written in intaglio: “Protection of the owner” in regular script. The upper right of the back of the stone is written in intaglio: “Smoky clouds surrounding the mountain peak, annotated by Mu-Guo-On”, also in regular script. Slightly off-center to the lower left is annotated in intaglio: “Yun-Gen” in zhuan script; on the left is annotated in intaglio: “Treasured by Lei Ge at Zhong-Yi-Tang” in regular script, ending with a rectangular seal impression of “Gong Fu” in zhuan script. On the lower left is annotated in intaglio: “Annotated in February of bing-shu year, eighty” in regular script, and to the upper left is annotated in intaglio: “Duo-Yen-Zai” in zhuan script. These annotations indicate that this inkstone had passed through the possession of many owners.

Duanshi inkstones were produced in Zaoqing, Guangdong, and were known for their compact and fine texture, being as warm and smooth as jade; they had the particularly valued characteristic of being soundless when ground for ink, without harming the brush in any way. They were referred to as one of the four greatest inkstones. The carving on this inkstone is superb, paying attention to its natural texture and basing the design on the original patterns on the inkstone itself. This inkstone demonstrates the maturity of the inkstone making craft during the Qing Dynasty, and adds to the elegance of a scholar when placed on the writing desk.

Gourd shaped cricket container with ivory lion knob
Qing Dynasty
Donated by Mr. Chi Hsing-fu
The main body of the gourd shaped cricket container is made from a gourd, with a broad mouth, narrow neck and a lid. The rim, the foot and the lid are all carved from ivory and inlaid with tortoiseshell; the lid engraved in a coin pattern to serve as ventilation for grasshoppers. Atop the lid are two large and small lions standing face to face, carved from ivory, their forms vivid and the workmanship crickets. The body of the gourd itself is plain and undecorated, its deep, glowing color a mark of the long-term affection of the collector.

The hobby of keeping calling insects as pets first began in Tang Dynasty, reaching its height during the Ming Dynasty. By Qing Dynasty it had become a highly refined hobby. It was mentioned in “Qing Palace Verses: Growing Gourds” that: “The copper door knocker is wiped until clean without a trace of dust, and there is now nothing left to do. Since I am planning to keep some crickets when winter comes, I now irrigate the corner of the wall to grow some gourds.” A gourd container is also referred to as “bottle-gourd container” or “sedge container”, and this kind of gourd containers for keeping calling insects first began during Kangxi reign in Qing Dynasty. The Qing Imperial Household Department specifically assigning staff to capture these bugs at the start of each autumn, and carefully keeping them in a warm room in the palace. On the first day of the year and during the New Year celebrations, carefully crafted braziers burning scented charcoal would be set up within the warm room of Qianqing Palace, surrounded by shelves full of gourd shaped containers holding crickets and various other insects, singing night and day to the accompaniment of firecrackers being set off outside the Palace. Such were the special festive sounds of the celebrations. Not only did the emperor, empress, high officials and concubines enjoy keeping these pets, it was also fashionable for other ladies-in-waiting at court to keep various autumn insects such as crickets and letting them pass the winter in the warmth of the ladies’ arms.

According to “Private Records of Die-Jie”, there were already eunuchs designated to making gourd containers for crickets in Beijing during Xianfeng reign. Since it is difficult to preserve these containers, very few now survive. Generally the top half of the gourd is used as the cricket container, with the lid and core being made from ivory or tortoiseshell. Some craftsmen might finely carve figures, flowers, calligraphy or other patterns around the gourd to ventilate the container, and these are so beautifully done that a single container may be worth a hundred pieces of gold, and were particularly favored by noblemen and high officials. The fine craftsmanship of a cricket container not only reflects the tastes and wealth of its owner, but also reflects the fashion trends and aesthetic preferences at the time. This particular container was donated by Mr. Chi Hsing-fu, who had made great contributions during his military career. He and his wife, Professor Chang Chen-fang, had arrived at the National Palace Museum together in March 1984 to kindly donate two trunkfuls of precious artefacts from their private collection, and their collection gives us a glimpse of the fascinating cultural interests and leisure hobbies of the literati during the late Qing-early ROC period.

A pair of Chu stone seals of Tseng Kuo-fan
Qing Dynasty
Donated by Madam Tseng Lao Ai-ju (wife of Zeng Shao-Jie)
“Seal of Tseng Kuo-fan” and “Di Sheng” are matching seals that were used by the famous Qing official, Tseng Kuo-fan. The seals are hard in texture, the black base containing traces of grey and white, the surface of the chop neat and square. The “Seal of Tseng Kuo-fan” is an intaglio seal in Han writing, carved in a simple “miao-zhuan” script. “Di Sheng” is a relief seal with narrow font and a wide border, carved in “xiao-zhuan” script. Both seals were carved in the style of the Zhejiang school of seal makers, but the craftsman is unknown as there is no side annotation. Being matching seals, the carved patterns on the seals correspond to each other; the flat surfaces on the tops of the seals are carved with the heads of three dragons, whose bodies are in square, returning patterns; the outer edge of the design is decorated with fine water patterns, and the tops of the four walls are each carved with a vertical decorative pattern. When placed side by side, the dragon in the centers appear to glance naturally at each other.

Tseng Kuo-fan (1811-1872), sobriquets “Bo Han” and “Di Sheng”, was a native of Xiang Village in Hunan. He had been appointed the governor of Liang Jiang, and had directed the Xiang army in capturing the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom capital of Tianjing. Zeng was a master writer during the late Qing Dynasty, and was particularly known for his calligraphy couplets. He was respectfully named alongside Wang Kai-Yuan and Zuo Zong-Tang as the “Three Famous Couplet Writers of Central Hunan”. He had used more than one set of matching seals, all of which comprised of “Seal of Tseng Kuo-fan” in intaglio and “Di Sheng” in relief. This seal was donated by Ms. Tseng Lao Ai-ju, the widow of Zeng Shao-Jie, who was the great-grandson of Tseng Kuo-fan’s fifth younger brother. Mr. Zeng Shao-Jie (1911-1988) was also a renowned seal making and calligrapher in recent Chinese history.

Tai-lai stone seal by Tai Ching-nung
Donated by Madam Chang Hsu Wen-po
This Tai-lai stone seal is whitish-grey in color with a trace of brick red, the stone itself containing cloud-shaped patterns, the top of the seal slightly convex. The tai-lai stone is used in Thailand and Korea as fire-resistant bricks, and is similar in stone texture to the shoushan stone; it is a material popularly used by Taiwanese seal makers. The seal issurface square, and is carved with four characters in relief: “Yi-Jie-Mei-Shou”, meaning “best wishes for longevity”. The font is in oracle-script, set neatly in each corner of the seal surface, each character surrounded by a red border. On the side is annotated: “Made in April of bing-chen year in imitation of my respected brother’s work, and presented in honor of his birthday. Younger brother Jing-Non.” The phrase “Yi-Jie-Mei-Shou” came from “The Book of Songs: July”: “I toast you with this spring wine wish best wishes for your longevity”, and therefore suggested the warmth of spring and longevity. Chang Dai-chien subsequently impressed this seal on many of his paintings, adding his own best wishes for auspicious blessings.

From the annotation “made in imitation of my respected brother’s work, and presented in honor of his birthday”, we can see that Tai Ching-nung and Chang Dai-chien had a relationship as close as real brothers. When Tai Ching-nung was studying the calligraphic style of Ni Yuan-Lu, Chang Dai-chien had generously presented him with an authentic specimen of Ni Yuan-Lu’s calligraphy for his studies; when Chang Dai-chien returned to Taiwan to build his residence “the Abode of Maya”, he had also invited Tai Ching-nung to inscribe the horizontal plaque for the entrance. These incidents evidence the friendship of the two. Tai Ching-nung (1902-1990) was a native of Huoqiu, Anhui; birth name “Chuanyen”, he later changed it to “Jing-Non”. He was a famous writer, calligrapher, and one of the responsible persons of the “Weiming Society”. He was known for his part in the New Literature Movement.

Tai-lai stone seal by Wang Chuang-wei
Donated by Madam Chang Hsu Wen-po (wife of Chang Dai-chien)
The tai-lai stone seal is carved in relief in “bird-and-insect zhuan” script. On the side is annotated: “This stone is respectfully gifted to Master Dai-chien upon the completion of his self-designed abode, and also in honor of his 80th birthday. Respectfully submitted in early summer of shu-wu year by student Wang Chuang-wei.” Chang Dai-chien began designing and building “the Abode of Maya” at Waishuangxi in Taipei in 1976, which was intended to become his residence in his late years upon his return to Taiwan from the United States. “Maya” was the name of the mother of the Buddha Sakyamuni, in whose womb held three thousand worlds. The Abode of Maya therefore also implicitly indicated “the Abode of Dai-chien”. The abode was completed in August 1978, coinciding with the 80th birthday of Chang Dai-chien. Wang Chuang-wei had therefore made this seal in celebration of completion of the abode, as well as in honor of Chang Dai-chien’s birthday.

Wang Chuang-wei first began making seals for Chang Dai-chien in 1959, and by 1983 he had made a total of 28 seals, the majority being seals for Chang’s various residences and leisure seals for his art and calligraphy. He had made seals for almost all of the houses and residences that Chang Dai-chien had resided in during his late years, “Mo-Ye-Jing-She” being one of them. Wang Chuang-wei’s original name was “Ruan-Li”, and was a native of Yixian in Hebei. He had learned seal carving and painting from his father since young; after Japan’s invasion of China, he joined the army and made seals for others using the pen name “Zhuang-Wei”. In 1949 he came to Taiwan and taught zhuan-script carving and calligraphy history in tertiary colleges. A renowned gold and stone seal maker, Wang had a solid background in seal carving. He pursued gradual changes and was close to nature, his carving being highly versatile; one even sees such ancient writings as oracle-bone script, Jin script and silk script in his seals.

Bronzes and Jade Objects
In the Anthology of the Songs of Chu, Wang Yi of the Eastern Han (date unknown) noted that “the so-called appearance of gold [i.e. bronzes] and nature of jade are incomparable for a hundred generations, and their names last endlessly and never ruined.” Bronzes and jade objects, as symbols of power and status of noble culture and as curiosities cherished by literati, are monumental rarities of Chinese cultural relics.

From all the accepted bronzes and jade objects, including 411 pieces of bronzes, 826 of jade objects, and 1,489 of copper coins, the fine articles are selected for this exhibit to reveal the spirit of Chinese literati.

The selected items, diverse in formats, date from the Neolithic period to the Qing dynasty and cover various regions of Asia. One may appreciate a stone chisel of the Majiabang culture at the mouth of the Yangtzi River, jade ornaments of the Beinan culture in Taiwan, a hilt with jade handle of the Mughal Empire, and bronze Buddhist statues from the regions of Northeastern, Southeastern, and Southern Asia. Among all the donations of cultural relics, moreover, some priceless articles are the focus of attention; they are, bronze jue vessel dating to the Erligang period of the Shang (1600-1400 B.C.E.), a bronze ding cauldron with cicada pattern of the Western Zhou (1046-771 B.C.E.), and one of the most valuable historical archives, bound tablets for the Shan sacrifices to the earth by Emperor Xuan-Zong (712-756). All these artifacts demonstrate the donors’ delight of sharing cultural possessions with others.

Bronze Jue vessel with animal mask pattern
Er-li-gang Period of Shang Dynasty
Donated by Mr. Chang Chin-lien
This vessel is narrow with a pointed tail, its twin-column stubby and stand at the junction to the spout; the inner rim is cast with a metallic ring for reinforcement, creating a stair-like pattern; the upper abdominal wall is slightly inclined and draws inwards tightly; the lower abdomen protrudes, and the flat base displays clear marks of smoking. Three cone-shaped feet are connected to the flat base, the feet tilting slightly outwards, with flat-shaped gilting on the waist. A narrow strip of animal-face pattern in intaglio decorates the waist of the vessel. This is a typical product of the Er-li-gang Period.

Many scholars and much literature speculate at the exact purpose of such bronze “jue” vessel, and there is disagreement as to whether these vessels are used for drinking or for warming wine. There is also disagreement as to the purpose of the twin-column, but no school of thought has yet been able to produce convincing proof of its opinion. These vessels are now generically referred to as “three-footed bronze jue”, a name first given and adopted in Song Dynasty. The structures of the word “jue” in oracle-script and zhou-jin-script are consistent with the shape of the bronze jue we see today; therefore scholars of antiquities do accept that this kind of wine vessels should be referred to as”jue” vessels. In 1976 a pair of late Western Zhou “bo-gong-fu-jue” was excavated in Zhouyuan, Shanxi. They were oval in shape, supported by rounded feet, with a flat and bent handle. On the vessels were self-annotated the name “jue”, and they stated their purposes as being for “offering, tasting, enjoying, and filial piety”. These are the only bronze vessels self-entitled “jue” to date.

The three-footed bronze jue is the earliest bronze wine vessel to appear during the Xia Culture; by mid-Western Zhou it was no longer used as bronze ceremonial vessels. Were the jue-shaped and self-entitled vessels a part of the long evolution of wine vessels, or merely a fragment of the past? This is a question for further study.

Bronze Ding cauldron with cicada pattern
Western Chou Period
Donated by Mr. Chiang Ting-wen
This cauldron has upright ears tilting slightly outwards, puffed abdomen, three columned feet, with the largest diameter at the center of the cauldron. A strip of intersecting kui-pattern and jiong-pattern decorates the lower part of the rim, followed by triangular cicadas pattern. There is no annotation on the cauldron. The shape and patterning of this cauldron are both classical of the late Yin and Shan Periods to early Western Zhou Period. As the body of the cauldron is slightly rounded, similar to the early bronze cauldrons from Western Zhou excavated from M1:1 Yaojiahe, Lingtai in Ganshu, this cauldron has been dated early Western Zhou.

Cauldrons are used as cooking vessels as well as food containers. From the many self-entitled cauldrons, we are able to deduce that cauldrons are used for a number of purposes: for ceremonial worship, for entertaining, for weddings, and also for cooking various kinds of meats, vegetables and spices. The Eastern Zhou people had even produced cauldrons designated for cooking soup (boiling water). Bronze cauldrons can also be categorized by their shapes: pots, cans, cauldrons, plates, cauldrons with narrow waist and flat base, square cauldrons and so on. This particular cauldron and its patterning are both finely made, and can be said to be one of the cauldron masterpieces.

Gilt bronze mirror with animal pattern
Han Dynasty
Donated by Mr. Peng Kai-dong
This gilt bronze mirror has round buttons, the button bases decorated with a four-leafed pattern; airy-cloud pattern decorate the areas between the button bases, and a broad strip pattern separate them from the main pattern. The main pattern section is divided into eight areas by the octagonal star. With the star pattern at the center, winding dragon patterns surround the perimeter, as if eight small mirrors circle the mirror buttons. In the eight areas, the craftsman has inserted auspicious cloud and animal patterns such as feathered man, blue dragon, white tiger, red phoenix, unicorn, blue goat and airy-clouds. Triangular bent patterns surround the outer edge of the main pattern section, and the above areas are gilted to give the impression of elaborate elegance. At the perimeter of the mirror, the broad band pattern contains a band of zhuan-script annotations in an unusual arrangement, the clockwise and anti-clockwise annotations meeting at the center.

Anti-clockwise: “An official walking in the way of the Heavens will look and feel gladness.”

Clockwise: “Obey the cycles of the sun and the moon, always keeping the Emperor’s will on your mind. This will guarantee the security of your line.”

This kind of multiple bird and animal patterned mirrors can be combinations of five to eight stars, depending on size of the mirror, and were popular during the late Western Han to late Eastern Han Periods. The eight-star mirror is one of the larger pieces, and the most glorious. The “Hereditary Seven-Stars Four-Gods Mirror” excavated from the Annan countryside in Shansi in 1964 is similar to this particular mirror in patterning and arrangement, and can be dated to around late Western Han to Xinmang. Both probably came from the same period of time.

Gilt bronze Amitayus Buddha
9th Year of Taiho reign in Northern Wei Period
Donated by Mr. Peng Kai-dong
The hair of the Buddha is made into a bun, separated at the center; His face rounded, with almond-eyes, high nose, long ears, and the trace of a smile at the lips. He wears a long monk cloak with a round collar, the folds flowing naturally from the shoulders to the breast; the folds at the back of left shoulder and the left sleeve slightly wavy. He is holding his right hand before his chest in the gesture of fearlessness; the left hand raised to the height of the elbow and is holding the lapel before the abdomen. The Buddha stands upon a lotus seat, which is placed upon a four-footed square seat. Triangular pattern decorates the upper rim of the square seat; the four feet are carved with a vow comprised of 44 characters: “In the 9th year of Taihe reign during yi-niu year, February of shu-wu…. Made one statue of Amitayus Buddha.”

The circular light radiating from the head and the boat-shaped light radiating from the back are melted to the statue. The light from the head comprises of two layers: inner rays, and outer layer decorated with lotus-petal pattern. The light from the back comprises of three layers: plain rays near the body of the Buddha ornamented with a twisting pattern; a fire pattern decorates the top of the boat-shaped rays on the second layer; and the outer most layer of boat-shaped rays is sharp on the top and flat on the base, decorated with roiling fire patterns. The figure of the standing Bodhisattva wearing a crown and holding a cleansing vase is carved to the back of the back light.

The name “Amitayus Buddha” originates from Sanskrit, and this Buddha is most symbolic of the mercy of immeasurable light that offers salvation from all torment. The making of statues of the Amitayus Buddha first became popular during mid-Northern Wei Period, and reached its peak during the Sui and Tang Dynasties.

Jade pi disc
Warring States Period to Han Dynasty
Donated by Mr. Chi Hsing-fu and Chang Chen-fang couple
This jade piece is green in color, semi-transparent, flat and circular in shape. The inner and outer perimeters are slightly raised, with a plain band as decoration. The entire piece is decorated with a lying silkworm pattern on both sides, and the craftsmanship is extremely fine.

The jade pi disc is one of the five auspicious gifts referred to in the “Rites of Zhou”, and has been very important since its first appearance in the Neolithic Age. During the Eastern Zhou Period it was held by noblemen during meetings with the emperor, consultations, banquets and ceremonial worship. It was also a popular burial item for noblemen.

During the Neolithic Age, Chinese jade wares developed in three main systems due to regional characteristics: northern jade, central jade (including eastern and northwestern areas), and southern jade. Zong, pi, guan and pei forms of jade wares developed in the south, and large numbers of jade pi disc, zong and clothing accessories has been discovered through scientific archaeology at the Shixia Culture site in Chujiang, Guangdong. Large numbers of jade pi disc have also been discovered at the Liangzhu Culture site in the Taihu area in Yuhang, downstream of the Yantze River. The green jade pi disc recently found in Anxi Village of Yuhang is carved with illustrations and texts on both sides, a representative of the mysterious aesthetics of the jade pi disc. The decorative pattern on the jade pi disc exhibited here was one of the most popular patterns adopted since the Eastern Zhou Period.

Bound tablets for the Shan sacrifices to the earth by Emperor Hsuan-tsung
13th Year of Kaiyuan in Hsuan-tsung reign of Tang Dynasty
Donated by Madam Liu Mu-hsia, spouse of General Ma Hung-kuei
The bound tablets comprised of 15 tablets in white marble; a hole has been drilled horizontally through the top and lower ends of each tablets, so that they can be linked up with metallic wire. Five tablets are linked up to form one set, and there are a total of three sets. Each tablet is carved with one line of characters in clerical script, and there is a total of 115 characters to the prayer of worship carved on these tablets. This particular set of jade tablets was buried by the Emperor Hsuan-tsung (Li Longji) of Tang Dynasty in the 13th year of Kaiyuan reign, at the foot of Sheshou Mountain in the Taishan Ranges (now called Gaoli Mountain). As there is no record of this set of tablets either in the new or old versions of “Records of Tang” or other historical document, its existence is particularly significant for supplementing the lack of historical records.

In “Historical Records: Fengshan” it was written: “An earthen altar is built atop Taishan in worship of the heavens, and to report meritorious events to the gods. This is called ‘feng'” and “Land is cleared on the hill at the foot of Taishan to report meritorious events to the earth. This is called ‘shan'”. At the beginning of time, the ancients were full of caution and respect for heaven and earth, and it was the norm to worship the heavens and earth in various forms. Taishigong had cited the words of Guanzi: “According to Guanzong: There were 72 families that worshipped at Taishan in the ancient times, and 12 were recorded by the King Yiwu.” In archaeology we have also found remains of temples and altars at the Red Mountain Culture site of Neolithic Age, remains of altars at the Lianzhu Culture site, and ceramic tablets at the Dawenkou Culture site in Lingyang River of Juxian. All of these ancients had worshipped the heavens and earth. The term “fengshan” had probably originated from the scholars of the Eastern Zhou Period, and “fengshan” implemented by the Qin Emperor and Emperor Hanwu were probably mixed with the emperors’ selfish longing to obtain immortality. Since the first Qin Emperor implemented “fengshan” at Taishan, the practice was criticized by the literati and involved complicated political situations; nonetheless six other emperors from subsequent dynasties still visited Taishan to carry out the “fengshan” ceremony, the practice only ending during the first year in the reign of Song Zhenzong. The Emperor Qianlong had criticized “fengshan” as being a practice “to fool oneself and to fool others, a laughable event in the historical records”; however, he himself had visited Taishan ten times during the 13th to 55th year of his reign to carry out ceremonies of worship. Is this not an indication that the idea of paying respect to the heavens and earth is already deep in our psyche?

Soft stone statue of Avalokiteśvara
Qing Dynasty
Donated by Mr. Huang Chun-pi
This statue shows Avalokiteśvara sitting with the left leg crossed, the right knee raised, the right holding prayer beads and hugging the left knee, the left hand embracing the knee, the head slightly tilted and gazing into the great infinity. These characteristics indicate that it is a statue of the “Anu Avalokiteśvara” that is one of the 33 forms of Avalokiteśvara, a translation from Sanskrit that means “incomparable excellence”. It is said that: “Anu” refers to the “Anuta Pond”, and according to the “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions”, this pond was apparently located at the center of Zhanbuzhou. Bodhisattva of the eighth level had used her powers to transform into a dragon king and had lived in the pond, giving rise to the name. For this reason both “Pu-Men-Ping” and “Fa-Yuan-Zhu-Lin” had referred to Avalokiteśvara as one of the goddesses of water sources, with the powers to take care of the rivers and seas, saving the drowning and able to relieve people from disasters. Many literati since the Jin and Tang Dynasties enjoyed placing statues of Avalokiteśvara in their studies; some even surround statues of gods with smoke to pray for betterment of their literary prowess.

This statue is made from ross quartz and adopts the circular carving method in producing the appearance of Avalokiteśvara. Ross quartz comes from the Shoushan rock ranges, and the mine was located in Yueliang-Jialiang Mountain of Shoushan Village, north of Fuzhou in Fujian Province. Shoushan rocks are used for stone sculptures, and archaeologists have found circularly carved “Pig Lying Down” in a Southern Dynasty tomb, while a large number of simple figurines, birds and animal forms have also been found in Song Dynasty tombs in the Fuzhou area. After the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, the literati often used shoushan stones to make seals. From then on stone wares made from shoushan rock formally entered the literati studies, and became treasured items atop the desks of the literati.

Hilt with jade handle
Late 17th Century to 18th Century AD
Donated by spouse of Mr. Yeh Po-wen
The top of the hilt is made in a curling, nubbled shape, in a V-angle to the blade of the dagger. The entire piece is carved from white jade, decorated with patterns of flowers and leaves in relief. The iron blade is sharpened on both sides, the tip of the blade slightly raised like a scimitar. The scabbard is made from thin wood and decorated with crimson velvet, the spine decorated with metallic wire. The rim and tip of the scabbard are made in white jade with flower and leaves pattern; the white jade rim near the handle is carved with a slightly raised ring, which can be used to tie a fringe.

This kind of dagger was fashionable in Persia and India, and was the sabre customarily carried by the Islamic noblemen. Amongst the Islamic jade wares in the National Palace Museum collection, the forms of the top of the sword can also be animal-head shapes or flower and leaf shapes.

Due to the strong Turkic and Mongolian kinship in the Mogul royal bloodline, we can see the influence of the grasslands culture on this kind of jade-handled daggers. Ordos bronze weapons were common in the central and southern parts of Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and noth of Xiaxi, the west, south and north of Yenshan, Ganshu, and eastern parts of Qinghai during the period equivalent to Shang-Zhou Dynasties of China (15th Century BC to ~7th Century AD). The bell-headed dagger with curled handle, animal-headed dagger with curled handle, scimitar with bell head, and scimitar with animal head are all connected to the dagger with white jade and nubbled, curling handle exhibited here.

Taiwan National Palace Museum
The National Palace Museum houses one of the largest collections of Chinese art in the world. With nearly 700,000 precious artifacts, the museum’s extensive collection spans thousands of years and consists of magnificent treasures from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing imperial collections.

In recent years, the National Palace Museum has dedicated itself to melding culture and technology, hoping to make its national treasures and remarkable cultural inheritance more accessible to people around the world.