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Birthday gifts fit for royalty

August 27, 2017

Personalised plaque

Personalised plaque:  The Museum of History is showing the birthday gift Emperor Kangxi wrote for his grandmother with the four characters meaning "boundless longevity".

Throwback tradition

Throwback tradition:  Museum of History Assistant Curator Wong Nai-kwan says people today often think about making do-it-yourself gifts for their loved ones, a common tradition in ancient China.

Afterlife offering

Afterlife offering:  Due to the sudden death of Emperor Yongzheng, a gift of Buddhist scriptures written by his son was not received. Emperor Qianlong decided to present it as an offering at a ritual marking the 100th day of his father's death.

Scroll through

Scroll through:  As the museum only displays 12 metres of the famous 28-metre painting scroll depicting the 60th birthday celebration of Empress Dowager Chongqing, visitors can view the rest of the scroll on a touchscreen TV.

As the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region celebrates its 20th anniversary, the Museum of History is holding a birthday-themed exhibition.

 

It brings visitors back to the Qing dynasty for a glimpse of the precious birthday gifts bestowed upon emperors and empress dowagers.

 

The artefacts were selected from the collection in Beijing's Palace Museum.

 

Every treasure has a personal touch and a unique story behind it.

 

Labour of love

Museum of History Assistant Curator Wong Nai-kwan said people today often think about making do-it-yourself gifts for their loved ones. He said this was actually a common tradition in ancient China.

 

"Even emperors who deal with a host of problems every day would make the effort to draw or write something for their parents."

 

The exhibit Boundless Longevity is an example of an imperial personalised gift.

 

Emperor Kangxi wrote the four characters Wanshou wujiang, which means "boundless longevity" on a plaque as a birthday gift for his grandmother Empress Dowager Xiaozhuangwen.

 

"After his father Emperor Shunzhi died, the Empress Dowager picked Kangxi among Shunzhi's sons to be his successor. So Kangxi held a deep respect for his grandmother," Mr Wong said.

 

There are 16 golden dragons delicately embroidered along the edges of the plaque.

 

Twelve of the mythical creatures on the top and bottom of the plaque represent the 12 months in a year.

 

Four on the left and right represent the four seasons in a year.

 

They symbolise Emperor Kangxi wishing his grandmother good health throughout the 12 months and four seasons of the year.

 

Personalised prose

Mr Wong also highlighted Poetry in Celebration of Emperor Kangxi's Birthday as a featured exhibit.

 

The poems were written by Prince Yinzhen, who was later known as Emperor Yongzheng, to celebrate his father Emperor Kangxi's birthday.

 

Mr Wong said: "The poems were composed by Yongzheng himself, and you can see his calligraphy is neat and tidy."

 

Emperor Yongzheng's son followed in his father's footsteps with a flair for calligraphy.

 

When Emperor Qianlong was still Prince Hongli, he copied Buddhist scriptures in celebration of his father's 60th birthday.

 

But due to the sudden death of Emperor Yongzheng, it was an unsent gift.

 

He decided to present the scriptures as an offering at a ritual marking the 100th day of his father's death.

 

The gift has been named Dharani Sutra and is also on display in the museum.

 

Regal revelry

A highlight of the exhibition is a famous painting scroll entitled Birthday Celebration of Empress Dowager Chongqing.

 

The scroll is a record of the grand celebration held by Emperor Qianlong for his mother's 60th birthday.

 

"It also shows a three-storey opera theatre Qianlong built for his mother to enjoy performances," added Mr Wong.

 

As the museum only displays 12 metres of the 28-metre scroll, visitors can view the rest of the scroll on a touchscreen television.

 

Extraordinary exhibits

The exhibition showcases more than 200 precious artefacts, paintings, calligraphies and musical instruments.

 

They bring to life ancient birthday celebration rituals of the Qing court, and the rich culture immersed in them.

 

The exhibition is presented by the Leisure & Cultural Services Department and Beijing's Palace Museum. It will run until October 9.



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Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China 20th Anniversary