Imperial Treasures on Show in Kowloon

A look inside the new Hong Kong outpost of Beijing’s Palace Museum.

The harborside Hong Kong Palace Museum. (All photos courtesy of Hong Kong Palace Museum)

Despite having been mired in controversy from the moment of its announcement (due mainly to the exorbitant cost and a lack of public consultation), the latest big-hitting attraction to land in the West Kowloon Cultural District is undeniably impressive, both inside and out. The angular facade of the US$420 million Hong Kong Palace Museum resembles an upturned trapezoid dipped in bronze, its surface slotted with big glass panels and open-air platforms to maximize the spectacular Victoria Harbour views. The interior, meanwhile, is a statement of power architecture, a modern-day ode to Beijing’s Forbidden City complex (which houses the original Palace Museum) with an austere atrium, soaring concrete walls, and a fluted gold ceiling.

Escalators lead to five floors of galleries and exhibition spaces filled with a trove of Chinese paintings, portraits, calligraphy, sculptures, bronzes, clocks, ceramics, jewelry, musical instruments, and other artifacts. Among the collection are more than 900 precious objects on loan from its parent museum, which was first established in 1925 as one of the world’s foremost repositories of classical Chinese art. Most have never been seen in Hong Kong before; a few have never been displayed in public at all.

Visitors should look out for Ten Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains, a green-blue handscroll dating back to the mid-12th century and considered to be one of the finest landscape works in China; Returning Boats on a Snowy River, an ink on silk from the Northern Song period; and a rare sketch of the Manchu Empress Xiaojingxian in 18th-century court attire. But it’s not all about relics from the past; one exhibition titled “No Boundaries: Reinterpreting the Palace Museum Culture” showcases the work of half a dozen local multimedia artists, including a sound installation by GayBird Leung that references both Qing court music and the fireworks set off during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong.

Judging from the crowded galleries inside, Hongkongers appear to have embraced their new museum, controversies and all.

A pair of 18th-century cloisonné elephant censers on display at the museum.

Ming vases and other precious artifacts have been loaned by the Palace Museum in Beijing.

A terrace jutting out from the museum’s West Atrium offers views of Victoria Harbour.

The striking building was the work of locally based studio Rocco Design Architects.

This article originally appeared in the September/November 2022 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Palace Intrigue”).

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