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Created: February 19, 2002
Latest Update: February 19, 2002

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NYTimes photo of Painting of Emperor Qianlong Emperor Qianlong's Retreat

Entry by jeanne

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, February 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This essay was prompted by a New York Times article and slide show that appeared on Monday, February 19, 2002: Chinese Retreat Yields Handiwork Fit for an Emperor By Elisabeth Rosenthal. backup 1 backup 2

The story of this small bit of the Forbidden City, out of favor in communist China because of its imperial reminders, escaped the destruction that befell the Afghanistan Buddhas under the Taliban. Instead this imperial retreat was left under piles of dust to complete neglect, locked off to any who wished to enter.

The World Monuments Fund is seeking to help Beijing restore the retreat and open it to the public. The visual impact of treasures such as Emperor Qianlong's Retreat far exceeds any descriptions we can record. Preservation of this historical diversity within a given culture offers sociologists an opportunity to illustrate the extent to which cultures are interdependent on one another, as well as the individuals who create the cultures through their interpersonal relationships.

"Virtually all of China's famous historical sites are renowned for their facades, which have by now generally been elaborately restored: their walls painted red and their complex e[a]ves a dizzying mix of dragons and phoenixes of deep yellows, blues and greens. But far less attention has been paid to the interiors of those grand buildings, which generally remain sealed or are given over to museums, teahouses and cheesy gift shops."

Yet it is the interiors that bring to life the reality lived within the walls. It is this reality we seek to preserve that we may understand the intermingling of cultures and peoples.

"There is relatively little experience [in Beijing] in restoring even simple historical interiors. The challenge is magnified in the retirement lodge, a building whose exterior is standard-issue Forbidden City but whose innards are unique in China if not in the world. Many of the screens, crafts and paintings blend techniques used by the Chinese and Western artisans who mingled in Qianlong's court.

"The trompe l'oeil, for example, is a French art form. But it is done here on paper using traditional Chinese subjects and classical European styles. The elaborately inlaid wood panels, or marquetry, is another craft borrowed from Europe; but here it uses a highly polished yellow bamboo rather than the more typical ivory."

Emperor Qianlong from NY Times slide show. .

From the New York Times Slide Show on Emperor Qianlong's Retreat.