During our recent trip to Taiwan, we had the opportunity to briefly visit the National Palace Museum in Shilin, Taipei. The museum is home to an immense collection of artifacts and artwork, each of which requires several minutes to observe and enjoy. We spent a day at the museum and saw only a fraction of the exhibits on display. There are, in fact, more than 696,000 pieces spanning 8,000 years of Chinese history in the museum’s collection, of which 3,000 are on display at any given time. One could spend a lifetime visiting the museum and on each visit discover something new!
The National Palace Museum in Taiwan is closely linked to the Palace Museum in China. Each houses one half of the same collection split more than 60 years ago. During the Chinese Civil War, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek ordered the evacuation of the artifacts from the Forbidden City in China to Taiwan. More than 2,900 crates of artifacts were shipped over 14 months before the Communist army seized control of the Palace Museum and the evacuation was stopped.
Photography is not allowed inside the museum—and after carrying the dead weight of my camera around for the entire day I strongly suggest leaving your camera at the hotel!—but I found this restriction to actually be quite liberating. The intricate details in each of the artifacts is nearly unfathomable, and had I tried to take photographs, I simply would not have been able to enjoy each exhibit. An ivory ball sculpture, for example, still puzzles and inspires me. There are 21 layers carved from a single piece of elephant ivory, each capable of rotating independently of the others. (How the artist achieved such precise detail baffles me!) This type of ingenious craftsmanship is present in each of the pieces on display, from the ceremonial bronze artifacts to the famous jade carvings of pork and cabbage.
During our visit, we took a short break for lunch to rest and recharge before continuing our journey into the next wing of exhibits. On the upper floor of the museum is a restaurant that is quite good and, compared to similarly situated restaurants in the U.S., very reasonably priced. The view from here is also worth the visit.
It is difficult to fully capture a visit to the National Palace Museum in a post. The visit left a lasting impression and appreciation for the history and achievements of the Chinese people that words cannot describe. Have you been to the National Palace Museum? What exhibits were your favorites?