SZETO Yuen Kit 司徒元傑
Hong Kong Museum of Art 香港藝術館

Preserving and Promoting Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Collections for All in Museums
博物館與眾同享 - 守護與推廣中國書畫收藏

Museums provide an environment to preserve objects of high historical and cultural value. Their collections not only reflect the development of civilizations through time, but also enrich cultural life of the audiences through display. Chinese painting and calligraphy are particularly precious as they embody the exquisite essence of Chinese culture, thus the preservation, research and promotion of which are important missions for museums and their practitioners. Shiqu baoji [Catalogue of Painting and Calligraphy in the Qianlong Imperial Collection] of Emperor Qianlong (r.1736-1795) of the Qing dynasty recorded around 2,000 works of painting and calligraphy from the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties. Yet, when compared with the 7,644 pieces documented in the inventory of Emperor Huizong (r.1101-1125) from over 600 years ago, the decrease in number actually manifests that paper and silk calligraphy and painting are indeed very fragile and transient in the tides of history. Last year, the Palace Museum organized an exhibition and an international conference on Shiqu baoji. Curators, experts and scholars gathered to re-examine the Chinese gems, taking a step further to explore the strategies of preservation, research and public education, which are the core functions of modern museums.

In the early 20th century, some works catalogued in the Shiqu baoji were lost and scattered overseas via Hong Kong. Fortunately, Mr. Low Chuck Tiew, owner of the Xubaizhai Collection, had endeavored to rescue and acquire 13 pieces. For the sake of long term preservation of calligraphy and painting, Mr. Low decided in 1989 to donate his Xubaizhai Collection, including those previously in the imperial collection of the Qing dynasty to the Hong Kong Museum of Art. The Museum established a special team, building an advanced storage, a research center and a gallery to manage and display the collection in a professional standard. The works from the collection have been constantly exhibited in different thematic shows and featured in various educational activities and publications. The Museum is now planning an exhibition showing the Shiqu baoji works in the Xubaizhai collection which will recount some stories of the imperial collection and stress the importance of preserving the cultural heritage. The Department of Asia of the British Museum curated a special exhibition on the culture of Yangzi River. One of the exhibits, The Odes of Chen by the Song painter Ma Hezhi (act. ca 1130 - ca. 1170), was a documented painting in Shiqu baoji. The exhibition allowed visitors to learn about Chinese history, culture and painting and calligraphy from diverse perspectives. These exhibitions illustrate how museums and curators fulfill their roles and perform their duties in preserving and promoting cultures.