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

Written by Rebecca CairnsKristie Lu Stout, CNN

It’s the Lunar New Year. Dressed in their best party clothes, an 18th century family sits down to a sumptuous feast in a richly decorated room.

The event will be familiar to many families, across China and the world, enjoying their celebrations, traditions and typical foods during the holiday season, which began on Sunday. But there is a big difference: This hotpot plate is decorated with cloisonné enamel, the signs are decorated with turquoise, jade, and ruby, and the patriarch’s style choice is a silk robe with dragon motifs hand-woven in gold thread. It is the Lunar New Year for the king.

“It’s a fusion of the senses,” said Daisy Wang, deputy director of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, where these Qing dynasty treasures are on display in a second-floor museum focusing on daily life in the palace. of Beijing.

“You have to think about what the Emperor and his family would hear, what they would taste, what they would touch, what they would smell,” Wang added. “We have to use all our minds to think about what happened 300 years ago, inside the Forbidden City.”

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The $450 million building opened last summer and houses a rotating collection of more than 900 treasures on loan from Beijing’s Forbidden City, from rare ceramics to exquisite scroll paintings. The museum is celebrating the first Lunar New Year by inviting visitors to see how one of China’s longest-serving rulers celebrated the occasion, through interesting exhibits.

Decoding the past

The fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty, the Qianlong Emperor, was “one of the most powerful rulers in the world in the 18th century,” Wang said. “He ruled a large area, with a population of perhaps more than 300 million people.”

His reign, from 1735 to 1796, was also marked by the flourishing of art and creativity in the country. Known to be scholarly and cultured, he published more than 40,000 poems during his lifetime, and amassed a large collection of ancient works of art and royal commissions during his six-decade reign.

Everywhere you look at the Palace Museum’s exhibition, the king’s allure of luxury is on display, from the hanging panels with jade floral motifs to the gold pendants. pumpkin decorations. The latter ornament, which is encrusted with semi-precious stones and features the Chinese characters for “good luck,” is among more than 60 gourd-shaped ornaments commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor to decorate the Forbidden City during the Summer Festival. of Spring in 1746 only.

Some of the featured items related to the Lunar New Year on display include a pair of golden gourd ornaments.

Some of the featured items related to the Lunar New Year on display include a pair of golden gourd ornaments. Balance: CNN

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As with most works of art, they have “hidden meanings,” Wang said. The birthmark, bottle gourds, or “hulu,” has a name that resembles the Chinese words for “beautiful” and “wealth,” he added.

The emperor didn’t just commission works of art, though: His extravagant taste extended to his wardrobe. “(He) never ordered (just) one piece of clothing,” said Wang. “It always had to be two, four, six.”

One famous costume in the fair is known for changing its costume up to seven times a day, decorated with hand-stitched dragons flying in the middle of clouds with gold-covered thread.

This royal dragon robe was one of the best ceremonial robes of the Qianlong Emperor.

This royal dragon robe was one of the best ceremonial robes of the Qianlong Emperor. Balance: CNN

Known traditions

With the taste of large feasts, which often included hotpot, dumplings and roast duck, the character of the King’s estate – and the dishes and utensils used – will be known to many. According to Wang, Qianlong loved hotpot so much that he ate 200 such meals in one year, which some believe contributed to his long life (he died in his late eighties).

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The Lunar New Year feasts were special for the Emperor because it would be one of the very few occasions when he was allowed to eat in the same room with family and friends. “Because of security concerns, he often ate alone,” Wang said.

A messy hotpot used by the Qianlong emperor.  While beautifully decorated using the cloisonné technique, its brass interior is completely functional.

A messy hotpot used by the Qianlong emperor. While beautifully decorated using the cloisonné technique, its brass interior is completely functional. Balance: CNN

The royal objects he used, besides being decorated and bejeweled, also reveal how many traditions have remained intact.

“One of the things that surprised me is how he celebrated the Lunar New Year is similar to our practice today.

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

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

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