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Hu inaugurates landmark exhibit on Chinese emperors
Updated: 2005-11-10 07:08

China's President Hu Jintao inaugurated a landmark exhibition displaying the artistic riches created for China's most powerful emperors who reigned more than two centuries ago.

Hu and Queen Elizabeth II, his hostess during his state visit to Britain, both cut a red ribbon with identical silver scissors inside the Royal Academy of Arts in London, before the exhibition opens to the public on Saturday.

The exhibition here spans the reigns of three emperors from 1662 to 1795, featuring more than 400 treasures, mostly from the Forbidden City, the vast former imperial palace complex in the center of Beijing which is now a museum.

It "will include such treasures as paintings and painted scrolls, jades and bronzes, porcelain and lacquer ware, precious robes, palace furnishings, scientific instruments, weapons and ceremonial armor," the academy said.

"Many of these unique objects have never been shown outside China," it said in a statement to the news media.

The emperors all formed part of the Qing dynasty. They are Kangxi, emperor from 1662 to 1722; Yongzheng, who ruled 1723 to 1735; and Zianlong, in power from 1736 to 1795.

The three emperors also rode into battle to extend their lands west and north, reaching Central Asia and Mongolia, and used art and culture to help consolidate their hold over the vast territories and their 56 separate ethnic groups.

Art served as "part of an elaborate form of legitimation", since it showed the emperors' due respect for antiquity and broadcast the glory and power of the state, said Oxford dean Jessica Rawson, a China specialist and one of the show's curators.

The emperors' own calligraphy will be seen at the academy, alongside highly symbolic still life and landscape paintings, ritual portraits and ceremonial armor of the rulers, giant scrolls, porcelain and lacquer objects and jades.

The exhibit will also feature work by Jesuits who advised the Qing court in the 17th century, bringing technical expertise -- in the form of clocks and scientific instruments -- and Western artistic influence.

Rawson said the China exhibit would be one of the most extensive ever held abroad, including those hosted in Paris in 2003-04 as part of a special "China in France" year, since it focuses on three emperors instead of one, as has been the case in notable recent Western shows.

It also contains more premium artefacts from the Palace Museum -- now the official name for the Forbidden City -- than any other exhibition staged abroad, and most of those which will come to London have never before left China.

The Royal Academy's first exhibition on China, staged in 1935 with an expansive historical focus from the Bronze Age to the 16th century, remains the museum's most popular exhibition ever.

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