Forbidden City's treasures in London exhibition

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Hidden treasures never seen outside the Forbidden City in Beijing are to be shown in Britain in an exhibition exploring the three most powerful emperors of China's last dynasty.

Hidden treasures never seen outside the Forbidden City in Beijing are to be shown in Britain in an exhibition exploring the three most powerful emperors of China's last dynasty.

The Royal Academy in London has negotiated with the Chinese government to borrow 400 paintings, jades, bronzes, porcelain, robes and armour from the imperial collection. Some are nearly 300 years old.

The Chinese authorities usually permit a maximum of 15 per cent of foreign loans to be from its highest category of treasures, but half of the paintings and objects in the show will be first class.

This will be the biggest display of Chinese art in London since the ground-breaking exhibition of 1935, also at the Royal Academy, which forced even experts at the British Museum to re-consider the significance of early Chinese culture. More than 30 years have passed since the academy staged its acclaimed Genius of China show which attracted 770,000 visitors.

Zha Peixin, the Chinese ambassador, said: "China: the Three Emperors, 1662-1795 offers the world an opportune insight into the wealth of the national treasures held at the Palace Museum, Beijing [also known as the Forbidden City].

"The government of the People's Republic of China fully supports the Royal Academy of Arts for this landmark exhibition."

Yasha Ke, the Chinese cultural attaché, said that while Britain's stately homes were packed with oriental porcelain and silks, these were the goods prepared for export. "The quality in National Trust properties does not compare with the royal collections from the Forbidden City."

The exhibition, which is sponsored by Goldman Sachs, will focus on the artistic riches of the 17th and 18th century after the Xing dynasty, who were Manchu not Chinese, had overthrown the reigning Ming dynasty. Three powerful emperors ruled for most of these two centuries. They were the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722), regarded as one of the greatest of all Chinese rulers, the Yongzheng Emperor (1723-35), a great patron of the arts, and the Qianlong Emperor (1736-95) whose extensive acquisitions form the core of the Palace Museum today.

Jessica Rawson, one of the exhibition's curators, said the Chinese empire was rivalled only by the Russian, and no other single country could compare with its creative output.

"China was then, as now, undoubtedly one of the greatest powers in the world. It's very easy in the West to underestimate how dominant China was in the 18th century," she said.

Culture was one of the means the emperors used to assert their legitimacy and authority and dominate the great diversity of different ethnic nationalities within their rule, which stretched from Mongolia to Vietnam.

All three of these emperors were Buddhists, military leaders and great calligraphers. They had themselves portrayed in magnificent paintings and commissioned dazzling works of art. They used Jesuit priests to learn something of the science of the West to assist in their understanding of the heavens on which they relied for good fortune.

The exhibition will include formal ritual portraits of the three emperors, depicted on dragon thrones and dressed in ceremonial robes of yellow silk.

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