The Forbidden City and the Maritime Silk Road at Beijing's Palace Museum


The Palace Museum's Meridian Gate (Wu Men) plays host to an exhibition recounting the important role of the Maritime Silk Road in facilitating cultural communication between China and the West. "The Forbidden City and the Maritime Silk Road" (May 9 - August 13, 2017) explores how the imperial families of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties interacted with the outside world.

The cultural exchanges are presented in three sections, starting with items China sent to other countries, for example porcelain, which had a huge impact on ceramics in many parts of the world. The second section features gifts and cultural and scientific products that spread to China from other countries, while the third section delves into how Eastern and Western culture impacted each other.

Curator Zheng Hong speaks to Global Times about the exhibition:

"It was believed that clocks demonstrated the advanced technology of Europe. The emperors of China found them greatly inspiring, so they became the first choice of gifts among foreign missionaries...Western clocks opened a window for missionaries to enter into the imperial palace."

"The Kangxi Emperor [1654-1722] was very open-minded about Western science and medicine. His interest greatly helped the spread of Western medicine in the royal palace. According to Zheng, Kangxi was also very passionate about astronomy. When the emperor order a map of China be created in the year 1708, he personally took part in some of the fieldwork carried out by Western and Chinese experts, putting his knowledge of the stars to use to help determine latitude. The introduction of Western astronomy was a great help in improving the Chinese calendar.

Kangxi was also a key figure for introducing Western medicine to China at a time when most people didn't trust it. "Anatomy and some theories of Western medicine run contradictory to our traditional Chinese medicine, so many didn't believe in it," Zheng said. However, Western medicine helped treat Kangxi after he came down with a case of malaria. This caused him to trust Western medicine, which he then promoted throughout the palace. "During the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor [1722-35], Western medicine was fully accepted in the palace. However, after that Western medicine wasn't accepted for a time and wouldn't return to the palace until the 19th century," Zheng said.

The Silk Road was a crucial trade route from China to the West since early antiquity. From the 10th century onward, a newly charted Maritime Silk Road carried Chinese porcelain, tea, and silk as far as North Africa; this route spread Chinese culture to that continent and the rest of Asia. From the 17th century, China expanded its trade with the rest of the world and interacted with a large number of loyal overseas merchants who purchased Chinese products. [National Palace Museum]

Exhibition dates: May 9 - August 13, 2017

Venue: Wu men Room, Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City, Beijing