A wonderful tale – The Odyssey of China’s Imperial Art Treasures

This 147 page book is a mere introduction, but to my knowledge the only book in English that tells the story of how the Qing imperial collection of treasures { later known as the Palace Museum Collection} was saved from destruction during the Japanese invasion of World War 2. The aunt and nephew team of authors have researched deeply into this fascinating aspect of Chinese history and we are indebted to them.

The book begins with a brief narration of the collection histories of the dynasties from the Shang dynasty to Han to the Northern Wei, Tang to Song to the Mongol Yuan to Ming and finally to the Qing dynasty.

After the abdication of the last emperor Pu Yi, we learn how a dedicated team of curators safeguarded the treasures, moved the best of the collection in 19,557 trunks over a total of 75, 000 km from 1933 to 1947, firstly to Shanghai, then to Nanking, to Chongqing and finally to Sichuan. The curators used carts to transport the trunks, and sometimes carried on the backs of porters over hills and pulled upstream by manpower involving many ferry crossings. It is remarkable not a single trunk was lost during the ten years from 1937 to 1947. The danger was immense. Just to illustrate, the treasures were moved just a day before the Japanese took Nanking thus barely escaping destruction in the Rape of Nanking. The book ends with the fascinating tale of how these saved treasures ended up divided between Taipeh and Beijing during the civil war.

I highly recommend this book.

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