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Museum of Art showcases splendour of Chinese glassware

More than 100 Chinese glass items will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (April 30) to showcase the sophisticated glass making of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

The exhibition, "Chinese Glass of the Qing Dynasty", is made up of pieces from private collections and the museum's own collection. It showcases the excellence of the technology involved in the production, including carving, wheel-cutting, grinding, etching, overlaying, enamel painting and gilding.

Glass beads dating back to the late Spring and Autumn period of the Zhou Dynasty (770-476 BC) have been uncovered in a tomb in Henan province. Small pieces of glass have also been found as inlaid decoration on the sword guards of Goujian, the king of Yue state (reign 496-465BC) and Fucha, the king of Wu state (reign 495-473BC).

Glass in ancient China was mainly a substitute for jade. During the Warring States period (475-221 BC) and Han dynasty (206 BC - AD 220), imitations of jade include the "bi" disc, sword ornaments, belt hooks, cicada mouthpieces, and plaques for burial suits. Many of these were made by the moulding method, with form and decorative motif copying their jade models. The composition of glass of this period consists of a high content of lead and barium, as opposed to glass manufactured in the Western countries with high sodium and calcium content.

In the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), glass containers and objects with hollow interiors were made by the blowing method with the aid of a blowpipe. However, glass was not widely used because of its brittle nature and low resistance to heat. Glass items from Rome and Persia continued to be imported along the Silk Road in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. Chinese-made glass items included accessories such as beads, hairpins, ear ornaments, and religious objects such as relic containers for burials of important Buddhist figures. In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), glass still served the purpose of imitating jade.

In the early Qing dynasty, Sun Tingquan (1613-1674) wrote "Yanshan zaji", the most detailed documentary record of glass making. He recorded that Boshan in Shandong province had been one of the main glass production centres since the late Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).

Glass making in China made rapid developments in the Qing dynasty due to the encouragement of the Manchu emperors who were interested in the arts as well as the objects and technologies brought by European missionaries. In the 35th year of Kangxi's reign (1696), a glass workshop including furnaces and areas for glass blowing, grinding rooms for lapidary work and fine polishing was established under the Zaobanchu, the Imperial Workshop within the Forbidden Palace. The glass workshop, which produced items for the imperial household and gifts for subjects underwent expansion. Production reached its peak under Emperors Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1795). From the reign of Jiaqing (1909-1911), production declined, in both quality and quantity, until the closure of the glass workshop in 1911 following the end of the Qing regime.

"Chinese Glass of the Qing Dynasty" is the fourth of the "Metal Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong" exhibition series organised by the Museum of Art. The series features more than 1,000 artistic objects selected from private collections and supplemented by items from the museum's collection. The Chinese glass will join an array of antiquities now on display, from bronze and gold to ivory and rhino horn.

The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. It opens from 10am to 6pm daily and is closed on Thursdays, except public holidays. Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For enquiries, please call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website at .

Ends/Thursday, April 29, 2004
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