National Palace Museum

Not to be confused with the Palace Museum in Beijing, People's Republic of China.
National Palace Museum

Established 10 October 1925 (in Beijing)
12 November 1965 (in Taipei)
Location Shilin District, Taipei, Republic of China
Type National museum
Collection size 696,373 (as of December 2015)[1]
Visitors 5,301,860 (2015)[2]
Ranking 7th globally (2015)[3]
Director Lin Jeng-yi
National Palace Museum
Traditional Chinese 國立故宮博物院
Simplified Chinese 国立故宫博物院

The National Palace Museum (Chinese: 國立故宮博物院; pinyin: Guólì gùgōng bówùyuàn) is located in Shilin, Taipei, Taiwan (Republic of China). It has a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest of its type in the world. The collection encompasses over 10,000 years of Chinese history from the Neolithic age to the late Qing Dynasty.[4] Most of the collection are high quality pieces collected by China's emperors.

The National Palace Museum and the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing, mainland China, share the same roots. The old Palace Museum in Beijing split in two as a result of the Chinese Civil War, which divided China into the two entities of the Republic of China (ROC) on the island of Taiwan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland respectively.[5] In English, the institution in Taipei is distinguished from the one in Beijing by the additional "National" designation. In common usage in Chinese, the institution in Taipei is known as the "Taipei Former Palace" (臺北故宮), while that in Beijing is known as the "Beijing Former Palace" (北京故宮).


Establishment in Beijing and relocation

The National Palace Museum was originally established as the Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City on 10 October 1925, shortly after the expulsion of Puyi,[6][7] the last emperor of China, from the Forbidden City by warlord Feng Yü-hsiang. The articles in the museum consisted of the valuables of the former Imperial family.

The National Palace Museum treasure fleeing Japanese forces in the 1930s

In 1931, shortly after the Mukden Incident Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government ordered the museum to make preparations to evacuate its most valuable pieces out of the city to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army. As a result, from 6 February to 15 May 1933, the Palace Museum's 13,491 crates and 6,066 crates of objects from the Exhibition Office of Ancient Artifacts, the Yiheyuan and the Hanlin Yuan Imperial Academy were moved in five groups to Shanghai.[8] In 1936, the collection was moved to Nanjing after the construction of the storage in the Taoist monastery Chaotian Palace was complete.[9] As the Imperial Japanese Army advanced farther inland during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which merged into the greater conflict of World War II, the collection was moved westward via three routes to several places including Anshun and Leshan until the surrender of Japan in 1945. In 1947, it was shipped back to the Nanjing warehouse.

Evacuation to Taiwan

The Chinese Civil War resumed following the surrender of the Japanese, ultimately resulting in Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's decision to evacuate the arts to Taiwan, which had been handed over to the ROC in 1945. When the fighting worsened in 1948 between the Communist and Nationalist armies, the Palace Museum and other five institutions made the decision to send some of the most prized items to Taiwan.[10] Hang Li-wu, later director of the museum, supervised the transport of some of the collection in three groups from Nanjing to the harbor in Keelung, Taiwan between December 1948 and February 1949. By the time the items arrived in Taiwan, the Communist army had already seized control of the Palace Museum collection so not all of the collection could be sent to Taiwan. A total of 2,972 crates of artifacts from the Forbidden City moved to Taiwan only accounted for 22% of the crates originally transported south, although the pieces represented some of the very best of the collection.

Three shipments from Nanjing to Keelung between 1948 and 1949[10]
Departure – Arrival Crates from Total
Palace Museum Central Museum Central Library The IHP of Academia Sinica MOFA Beiping Library
22–26 December 1948 320 212 60 120 60 772
6–9 January 1949 1,680 486 462 856 18 3,502
30 January – 22 February 1949 972 154 122 1,248 [a]
Total 2,972 852 644 976 60 18 5,522
a.^ In the third shipment, 728 crates from the Palace Museum and 28 crates from the Central Library were left in Nanjing due to limited space aboard. The fourth shipment was halted by then acting president Li Zongren.

The collection from the Palace Museum, the Preparatory Office of the National Central Museum, the National Central Library, and the National Beiping Library was stored in a railway warehouse in Yangmei following transport across the Taiwan Strait and was later moved to the storage in cane sugar mill near Taichung.[10] In 1949, the Executive Yuan created the Joint Managerial Office, for the Palace Museum, the Preparatory Office of the Central Museum and the Central Library to oversee the organization of the collection.[6] For security reasons, the Joint Managerial Office chose the mountain village of Beikou, located in Wufeng, Taichung as the new storage site for the collection in the same year.[10] In the following year, the collection stored in cane sugar mill was transported to the new site in Beikou.

With the Central Library's reinstatement in 1955, the collection from the Beiping Library was simultaneously incorporated into the Central Library.[10] The Joint Managerial Office of the National Palace Museum and the Preparatory Office of the National Central Museum stayed in Beikou for another ten years. During the decade, the Office obtained a grant from the Asia Foundation to construct a small-scale exhibition hall in the spring of 1956.[11] The exhibition hall, opened in March 1957, was divided into four galleries in which it was possible to exhibit more than 200 items.

In the autumn of 1960, the Office received a grant of NT$32 million from AID.[11] The Republic of China (ROC) government also contributed more than NT$30 million to establish a special fund for the construction of a museum in the Taipei suburb of Waishuanxi. The construction of the museum in Waishuanxi was completed in August 1965.[7] The new museum site was christened the "Chung-Shan Museum" in honor of the founding father of the ROC, Sun Yat-sen, and first opened to the public on the centenary of Sun Yat-sen's birthday. Since then, the museum in Taipei has managed, conserved and exhibited the collections of the Palace Museum and the Preparatory Office of the National Central Museum.

The National Palace Museum in the 1970s. Two wings were added to the main building after the second phase of the museum's expansion.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the National Palace Museum was used by the Kuomintang to support its claim that the Republic of China was the sole legitimate government of all China, in that it was the sole preserver of traditional Chinese culture amid social change and the Cultural Revolution in mainland China, and tended to emphasize Chinese nationalism.

The People's Republic of China (PRC) government has long said that the collection was stolen and that it legitimately belongs in China, but Taiwan has defended its collection as a necessary act to protect the pieces from destruction, especially during the Cultural Revolution. However, relations regarding this treasure have warmed in recent years and the Palace Museum in Beijing has agreed to lend relics to the National Palace Museum for exhibitions since 2009.[12] The Palace Museum curator Zheng Xinmiao has said that the artifacts in both mainland and Taiwan museums are "China's cultural heritage jointly owned by people across the Taiwan Strait."[13]


A number of Chinese artifacts dating from the Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty, some of which had been owned by Emperor Zhenzong, were excavated and then came into the hands of the Kuomintang General Ma Hongkui, who refused to publicize the findings. Among the artifacts were a white marble tablet from the Tang Dynasty, gold nails, and bands made out of metal. It was not until after Ma died that his wife went to Taiwan in 1971 from America to bring the artifacts to Chiang Kai-shek, who turned them over to the National Palace Museum.[14]

Museum building

Main Hall of the National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum's main building in Taipei was designed by Huang Baoyu (黃寶瑜) and constructed from March 1964 to August 1965.[15][16] Due to the insufficient space to put on display over 600,000 artifacts, the museum underwent expansions in 1967, 1970, 1984 and 1996.[17] In 2002, the museum underwent a major $21-million-dollar renovation revamping the museum to make it more spacious and modern.[15][18] The renovation closed about two-thirds of the museum section and the museum officially reopened in February 2007.[19][20]

Permanent exhibitions of painting and calligraphy are rotated once every three months.[21] Approximately 3,000 pieces of the museum's collection can be viewed at a given time.[22] Although brief, these exhibitions are extremely popular. In 2014, the museum organized the top three best-attended exhibitions worldwide, including paintings and calligraphic works by Tang Yin, as well as depictions of the Qing dynasty's Qianlong Emperor reinterpreted by contemporary artists.[23]


Collections (as of December 2015)[1]
Enamel wares2,520
Studio implements2,379
Miscellaneous objects
(religious implements,
costumes and accessories,
and snuff bottles)
Calligraphic works3,654
Calligraphic model books490
Tapestries and embroideries308
Rare books211,195
Qing archival documents386,862
Documents in Manchu,
Mongolian, and Tibetan


Complete inventory inspection has been taken three times in 1951–1954, 1989–1991 and 2008–2012 since the museum started to bring collections to Taiwan in 1948.[24] According to official report, the museum house Chinese calligraphy, porcelain, bronzes, paintings, jades and many other artifacts, with 22% (2,972 out of 13,491 crates) of the boxes originally transported south from the Forbidden City.[7] Other additions include transfers from other institutions, donations, and purchases made by the museum. A lot of these artifacts were brought by Chiang Kai-shek before his Kuomintang forces fled the mainland in 1949.[25] The museum has accumulated nearly 700,000 artifacts of significant historical or artistic values. With a collection of this size, only 1% of the collection is exhibited at a given time. The rest of the collection is stored in temperature controlled vaults.[18]

Notable items

The museum houses several treasured items that are the pride of their collection and famous worldwide. They include:


The antiquities in the National Palace Museum span over thousands of years with a variety of genres.[26]

Among the collections of bronzes, Zong Zhou Zhong (Bell of Zhou), commissioned by King Li of Zhou, is the most important musical instrument cast under his royal decree.[27] Mao Gong Ding (Cauldron of Duke of Mao) of the late Western Zhou Dynasty (1046–771 BCE) carries the longest Chinese bronze inscriptions so far extent.

With 21 pieces out of fewer than 80 surviving, the museum has the world's largest collection of Ru ware,[28] one of the rarest Chinese ceramics, made exclusively for the court and one of the Five Great Kilns of the Song Dynasty (960–1279), along with Ding porcelain, Jun ware, Guan and Ge;[29][30] the museum has major collections of all of these. Those from the official kilns of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, such as the doucai porcelains of the Chenghua reign in the Ming Dynasty and painted enamel porcelains from the early Qing, are also of excellent quality.[31]

One of the most popular pieces of jade carvings in the museum is the "Jadeite Cabbage".[32] It's a piece of jadeite carved into the shape of a cabbage head, and with a large and a small grasshopper camouflaged in the leaves. The ruffled semi-translucent leaves attached is due to the masterful combination of various natural color of the jade to recreate the color variations of a real cabbage.[33] The "Meat-shaped Stone" is often exhibited together with the Jadeite Cabbage.[32][34] A piece of jasper, a form of agate, the strata of which are cleverly used to create a likeness of a piece of pork cooked in soy sauce. The dyed and textured surface makes the layers of skin, lean meat, and fat materialized incredibly lifelike.

Other various carvings of materials such as bamboo, wood, ivory, rhinoceros horn, and fruit pits are exhibited.[35] The "Carved Olive-stone Boat" is a tiny boat carved from an olive stone.[36] The incredibly fully equipped skilled piece is carved with a covered deck and moveable windows. The interior has chairs, dishes on a table and eight figures representing the characters of Su Shih's Latter Ode on the Red Cliff. The bottom is carved in minute character the entire 300+ character text with the date and the artist's name.

Painting and calligraphy

A scene of the "Qing Palace version" of the Along the River During the Qingming Festival, an 18th-century remake of the 12th century original.[37]
The "One Hundred Horses": A painting done in 1728 by Giuseppe Castiglione by implementing a mixture of western artistic skills and utilizing eastern materials to realize a sense of realism to this native theme.[38]

The paintings in the National Palace Museum date from the Tang Dynasty (618–907) to the modern era.[39] The collection covers over one thousand years of Chinese painting, and encompasses a wide range of genres, including landscape, flower and bird, figure painting, boundary painting, etc. Among the most famous paintings in the collection is the Qing Palace version of Zhang Zeduan's Along the River During the Qingming Festival. Even though this is a copy (the original is in the Palace Museum in Beijing), it is nevertheless regarded as an artistic masterpiece. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Wu-yung version) by Huang Gongwang of Yuan Dynasty is one of the rarest and most dramatic works.[40] Walking on a Mountain Path in Spring is another significant work. The museum has a vast collection of calligraphy works from the hands of major calligraphers, scholars and important courtiers in history. The calligraphy works date from the Jin (265–420) and Tang (618–907) dynasties, with a variety of styles.

Rare books and documents

Rare books in the National Palace Museum range from the Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties to the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, amounting to over 200,000 volumes.[41][42] Yongle Encyclopedia and Siku Quanshu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) are among the examples.[43][44]

Historical documents in the museum include Jiu Manzhou Dang, a set of Manchu archives that are the sourcebook of Manwen Laodang and a primary source of early Manchu history.[45] Other official documents such as the court archives are available for research in the history of the Qing Dynasty.

Overseas exhibitions

Due to fears that the artifacts may be impounded and be claimed by China due to the controversial political status of Taiwan, the museum does not conduct exhibitions in mainland China. Since the museum's 1965 establishment in Taipei, the National Palace Museum has only made five large overseas exhibitions in countries which have passed laws to prevent judicial seizure of the treasures. The past five overseas events were to the United States in 1996, France in 1998, Germany in 2003, Austria in 2008 and Japan in 2014.[46][47]

The past overseas exhibitions are as follows:[6]

Other visitor facilities

Zhishan Garden

Housed within the compound of the National Palace Museum, this classical Chinese Song and Ming style garden covers 1.88 hectares (18,800 m2).[49] It incorporates the principles of such diverse fields as feng shui, Chinese architecture, water management, landscape design, and Chinese folklore and metaphor. It contains numerous ponds, waterworks, and wooden Chinese pavilions. It was completed and opened in 1985. There is also another Chinese Style Garden nearby called the Shuangxi Park and Chinese Garden.

Chang Dai-chien residence

The National Palace Museum also maintains the residence of renowned Chinese painter Chang Dai-chien. The residence, known as the Chang Dai-chien Residence or the Abode of Maya, was constructed in 1976 and completed in 1978.[50] It is a two-story Siheyuan building with Chinese-style gardens occupying approximately 1,911 m². After Chang's death in 1983, the house and gardens were donated to the National Palace Museum and turned into a museum and memorial.

Southern Branch

The Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum is located in Taibao, Chiayi County, Taiwan and set on 70 hectares (700,000 m2) of land. There is also a lake and Asian style garden on the grounds. Planning for the southern branch began in 2000.[51] The building was to be designed by architect Antoine Predock and began construction in 2005. However, due to serious construction delays and disputes between the contractors and the museum, the firm pulled out in 2008.[52] Museum director Chou Kung-shin stated in August 2010 that new architects for the project would commence, with construction expected to be completed in 2015.[53] The project cost NT$7.9 billion (US$268 million) and spread over 70 hectares (700,000 m2).[54] The museum itself, 9,000 square meters in total,[51] was designed by the Taiwan-based firm Artech Inc. and is both earthquake resistant and flood resistant.[54]

Grand Palace Museum Project

The Grand Palace Museum Project, officially launched in 2011, is a plan to expand the exhibition area in Taipei and improve the environment. The total budget for renovation should be around NT$10 to 12 billion.[55]


See also


  1. 1 2 "List of Categories in the Collection". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  2. National Palace Museum Annual Report 2015 (PDF) (First print ed.). Taipei: National Palace Museum. April 2016. p. 69. ISBN 9789575627607.
  3. "Top 10 Art Museum Attendance". The Art Newspaper. March 2016. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  4. Peter Enav (12 May 2009). "National art collection evokes hard history". The China Post. AP. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  5. "Taipei's National Palace Museum". BBC. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  6. 1 2 3 "Chronology of Events". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  7. 1 2 3 "Tradition & Continuity". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  8. Chiang, Fu-tsung (1979), "The Transfer of the National Palace Museum Collection to Taiwan and Its Subsequent Installation", The National Palace Museum Quarterly (in English and Chinese), 14 (1): 1–16, 37–43
  9. "The National Palace Museum: Timeline of the NPM". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Hang, Li-wu (1983). 中華文物播遷記 (in Chinese) (2 ed.). Taipei: The Commercial Press.
  11. 1 2 "A Brief History of the National Palace Museum", The National Palace Museum Quarterly (in English and Chinese), 1 (1): 29–32, 85–89, 1966
  12. "China to lend treasures to Taiwan". BBC. 16 February 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  13. Mark McDonald (2 March 2009). "Top bid on disputed Yves Saint Laurent bronzes was a protest from China". The New York Times.
  14. China archaeology and art digest, Volume 3, Issue 4. Art Text (HK) Ltd. 2000. p. 354. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  15. 1 2 "Renovation". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  16. Huang, Bao-yu (1966), "中山博物院之建築 [The Architecture of the Chung-Shan Museum]", The National Palace Museum Quarterly (in Chinese), 1 (1): 69–78
  17. 正館、行政大樓、圖書文獻大樓工程 [The Construction of the Main Building, the Administration Building and the Library Building] (PDF) (in Chinese). National Palace Museum. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  18. 1 2 Gluck, Caroline (7 February 2007). "Taiwan's museum of treasures". BBC News. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  19. Bradsher, Keith (28 December 2006). "Rare Glimpses of China's Long-Hidden Treasures". The New York Times.
  20. Quartly, Jules (4 February 2007). "National Palace Museum is born again". Taipei Times.
  21. "Visitor's Guide". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  22. Murakami, Takio (23 October 2011). "Taiwanese Palace Museum may increase floor area 7-fold". The Asahi Shimbun.
  23. "Visitor figures 2014: the world goes dotty over Yayoi Kusama". The Art Newspaper. 2 April 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
  24. "Inventories of the Collection". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  25. Multiculti roots, The Economist, 12th March 2016
  26. "Collections: Antiquities (National Palace Museum)". Taiwan Academy. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  27. "The Bell and Cauldron Inscriptions–A Feast of Chinese Characters: the Origin and Development". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  28. Sotheby's, Hong Kong, Sale "Ru - From a Japanese Collection", only lot, 04 April 2012
  29. "Northern Song Ru Ware Recent Archaeological Findings". Asian Art Newspaper. 3 March 2012.
  30. "Grand View: Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  31. "The Magic of Kneaded Clay: A History of Chinese Ceramics". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  32. 1 2 "Jadeite Cabbage is Moving to a New Gallery!". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  33. "Jadeite Cabbage with Insects". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  34. "Meat-shaped Stone". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  35. "Uncanny Ingenuity and Celestial Feats The Carvings of Ming and Qing Dynasties". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  36. "Carved Olive-stone Boat". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  37. "Along the River During the Ch'ing-ming Festival". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  38. "One Hundred Horses". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  39. "Collections: Painting and Calligraphy (National Palace Museum)". Taiwan Academy. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  40. "Dwelling in the Fu-ch'un Mountains (Wu-yung Version)". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  41. "Rare Books (National Palace Museum)". Taiwan e-Learning and Digital Archives Program. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  42. "Collections: Rare Books (National Palace Museum)". Taiwan Academy. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  43. "Vast Documents of the Yung-lo Era". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  44. "Complete Library of the Four Treasuries". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  45. "Archives in Old Manchu". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  46. "New Japan law opens way for exhibits". The China Post. Central News Agency. 26 March 2011.
  47. "Taiwan gives green light to museum exhibitions in Japan". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 23 June 2014.
  48. "The Treasured Masterpieces from the National Palace Museum, Taipei". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  49. "Zhishan Garden - Introduction". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  50. "Chang Dai-chien Residence". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  51. 1 2 "Taiwan's National Palace Museum opens new branch after 15-year wait". Straits Times. Agence France Presse. 28 December 2015. Archived from the original on 29 December 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2016 via Yomiuri Shimbun and Gulf News.
  52. "U.S. architectural firm quits NPM southern branch project". The China Post. 28 November 2008. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  53. "National Palace Museum chief upsets lawmakers". Taipei Times. 11 November 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  54. 1 2 "National Palace Museum in Taiwan unveils designs of Southern Branch". World Interior Design Network. 28 March 2011. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  55. "The National Palace Museum Annual Report 2011" (PDF). National Palace Museum. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
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