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March
Cultural relics from Chengde Summer Palace showcased
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A selection of cultural relics revealing the history of Chengde Summer Palace and the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of History from tomorrow (March 24) to June 7.

Featuring about 120 pieces of treasures from the Beijing Palace Museum, the First Historical Archives of China, the Museum of Chengde Summer Palace and the Eight Outlying Temples, the "Treasures of the Chengde Summer Palace Exhibition" will give visitors a better glimpse of the imperial life of the Qing dynasty as well as its military-establishment, religious activities and Manchu-Mongol relationship.

The Chengde Summer Palace, declared as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1994, is the largest existing royal garden in China. It was constructed under the command of Emperor Kangxi in 1703 and its extension was completed in 1792 during the reign of Qianlong. The two emperors spent about six months almost every year in this Summer Palace, where they hunted and handled state affairs. This practice was followed by most of the successors, making the Summer Palace the second administrative and cultural centre of the Qing dynasty other than its capital, Peking.

The site of the Summer Palace can be divided into palace zone and garden zone. Among the 124 groups of buildings found within the precincts, the most famous are those known as "The 72 Landscape Vistas of Kangxi and Qianlong".

About 200 kilometres north of the Chengde Summer Palace in the present Weichangxian in Hebei was the Mulan Hunting Grounds, where the Qing emperors performed the Autumn Hunting Ritual. The ritual usually lasted for 20 days and involved as many as 10,000 horsemen. It was designed to maintain the combat effectiveness of the Banner troops and consolidate Manchu rule over the northern frontier through hunting and gift-giving.

In the foothills to the east and north of the Chengde Summer Palace stand the "Eight outlying Temples". They were built to accommodate and entertain ethnic leaders who came to pay homage to the Qing emperors. Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism) was in fact a means to draw support from the Mongols and Tibetans.

As early as the mid-16th century, Jesuit missionaries from the Roman Catholic Church brought along Western scientific technologies and instruments while carrying out their religious mission. On the other hand, Chinese tea, silk products, ceramics, lacquerware and many other works of art were also brought to Europe. European countries began coveting China's rich natural resources and enormous market. In 1793, Lord Macartney was despatched by the king of Great Britain to China and arrived in Chengde Summer Palace. He made several requests to trade with China, but were all declined by Qianlong.

In 1860, Peking was under the threat of British and French troops during the Second Opium War. Emperor Xianfeng took refuge in the Chengde Summer Palace, eventually ratifying the humiliating "Conventions of Peking". On August 22, 1861, he died in Chengde. On his deathbed he appointed eight high officials to assist the new emperor Tongzhi. Empress Dowager Cixi later instigated the 1861 Coup and started her de facto sovereign of China in the next 48 years. Cixi never visited Chengde again. The Chengde Summer Palace fell into disrepair and the Qing Empire was also approaching the end of its rule.

Jointly presented by the Chengde Municipal Government, the Hebei Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the exhibition is co-organised by the Chengde Cultural Heritage Bureau and the Museum of History in collaboration with the Beijing Palace Museum.

To further enrich visitors' understanding of the Chengde Summer Palace, a cultural tour will be organised in July, 2004. All visitors with an admission ticket of this exhibition will be eligible to participate in a lucky draw. Winners will be awarded two places in the 5-day "Cultural Tour of Beijing and Chengde" to be led by the Chief Curator of the Museum of History. The tour is sponsored by Young Presidents' Organisation - Hong Kong Chapter, Limited.

Admission for the "Treasures of the Chengde Summer Palace Exhibition" is $10 with a half-price concession for full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. There will be no free admission on Wednesdays.

The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).

For details of the exhibition and the cultural tour, please visit the Museum of History's website at http://hk.history.museum or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, March 23, 2004
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