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A Feast for the Eyes This Holiday

Art lovers in Beijing are set to enjoy the upcoming Spring Festival with an exhibition of 90 Chinese cultural relics that have been ranked "national treasures."

The artefacts on display at the exhibition, which is on at the National Museum of China until March 31, include the best of relics unearthed in the 3,600-year-old Sanxingdui Ruins and 3,200-year-old Jinsha Ruins in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Some of the items were used by Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722 in reign) including a delicate calculator and a globe, and ink paintings collected by the Palace Museum, Shanghai Museum and Nanjing Museum are also included at the show.

They are chosen from four exhibitions that travelled to Paris between 2003 and 2004: "The Shu Kingdom," "The Confucius," "Holy Mountains" and "Emperor Kangxi."

Each has been a great success with about 1 million visitors passing through the display at the Paris City Hall, the Musee National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, the Versailles Palace Museum and the Grand Palace Museum, said Dong Baohua, deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, which organized the shows.

"The show at the Guimet, called 'The Confucius,' attracted a record number of visitors in the history of the museum, which opened to the public in 1882," he noted.

The exhibition in Beijing, a retrospect of the Parisian shows, is divided into four sections.

The famous bronze mask with protruding eyes, unearthed at the Sanxingdui Ruins in 1986, is among the 29 bronze, gold, jade and ivory artifacts included in the first section about the Shu Kingdom.

The kingdom allegedly existed for more than a millennium before the 3rd century BC in today's Sichuan.

It is widely speculated that the mask represented the magical power of Chan Cong, who was in legends the first King of Shu, and also showed the adoration for the sun by ancient residents in the misty, mountainous province.

The second section tells of the life of Confucius (551-479 BC), and how his philosophical thinking, which later developed into Confucianism, has evolved throughout the history and dominated the Chinese's ideological world until challenged by Western philosophies in the late 19th century.

It features the most important relics in the collection of the Shandong Museum and the municipal museum of Qufu, Shandong, where Confucius was born and where his descendants have lived to date.

It includes portraits of Confucius, documents of his teachings, bronzes that were used as ritual vessels at his time, bronze chimes, books, paintings and sculptures that displayed the development of his philosophy in the more than two millenniums after him.

The third section, entitled "Holy Mountains," tells of the evolvement of Chinese landscape painting from its origin in the 3rd century to its breakthroughs in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

It is especially worth a visit for those interested in Chinese ink paintings because of the debut of most of the 19 fragile pieces, which are highly valued in the art community and known to almost all Chinese art lovers.

They include the 13-metre-long scroll "Pines and Cypresses" by Zhu Da (1626-1704) and the "Endless Mountains and Rivers" by monk artist Kun Can (1612-73), which are in the collection of the Shanghai Museum; the 9-metre-long "Landscape of Yangtze River" by Wu Wei (1459-1508) in the collection of the Palace Museum; and masterpieces by such important artists as Ni Zan (1301-74), Shen Zhou (1427-1509) and Wang Shimin (1592-1680).

The fourth section, "Kangxi Emperor" is interesting as it includes swords, guns, ceramics, mathematics books and items of 17th-century cutting edge technologies -- a globe and a calculator.

The globe placed in the emperor's study much resembles a modern one. On it one can find major continents on the earth, navigational courses in parts of the Pacific, and sites marked with names such as "Australia," "New Guinea" and "The Great Wall."

The bar-shaped copper calculator has on its surface 12 glass plates, which represent 12 digits. One can make calculations with it when rotating a copper handle.

Meanwhile the National Art Museum of China is to hold an exhibition of Renaissance and Baroque art, on loan from the national collection in France, from February 5 to 20.

The French Government bought the 111 works from private collections in 2003, through a sponsorship of 11 million euros (US$14.3 million) from the retail giant Carrefour Group.

The exhibition, also sponsored by the Carrefour, includes works by such Renaissance masters as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffael.

(China Daily February 3, 2005)

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