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Viewing Nature in Chinese Art: A Special Exhibit of Select Artifacts from the Museum Collection to Celebrate the 2016 Tang Prize

  • #Calligraphy
  • #Painting
  • #Ceramics
  • #Jades
  • #Bronzes
  • #Curio
  • #Rare Books & Documents


The views of nature expressed in Chinese art are truly numerous and varied, the earliest of which began with descriptions of surroundings by the ancient Chinese and with observations of the world as they understood it. Over a long process of development, the Chinese gradually formed more sophisticated conceptualizations of the myriad phenomena in nature through their interaction and reciprocation with it, yielding different views and imaginative realms. At the same time, these developed into the wealth of unique art forms that became a distinct part of Chinese culture. This year marks the second biennial Tang Prize, the organizers of which have chosen the National Palace Museum as the site for its welcoming reception. The Museum is honored to host this important global event, for which it has arranged "Viewing Nature in Chinese Art: A Special Exhibit of Select Artifacts from the Museum Collection to Celebrate the 2016 Tang Prize." The aim of the Tang Prize is inspired by and to promote the spirit of the High Tang, a period representing a heyday in Chinese history in the eighth century marked by cosmopolitan views and progressive achievements in many fields. Firmly grounded in the millennia of Chinese culture, the Tang Prize recognizes scholars and figures around the world for their continued contributions to and insights into new possibilities in the fields of "Sustainable Development," "Biopharmaceutical Science," "Sinology," and "Rule of Law." Talents around the world are encouraged to pursue innovation ideas to make the world a better place and to serve as a force for further progress.

This special exhibition celebrating the 2016 Tang Prize takes one of its fields as inspiration to explore traditional views of nature in Chinese art and culture. The display is divided into five sections on "The Inspiration from Nature," "Descriptions of Actual Scenes," "On the Subject of Seasons," "The World of Imagination," and "Humanity and Nature." In the first section, a prologue, audiences can witness how the ancient Chinese received inspiration from various facets of nature. Not only did people observe, imitate, and interact with their surroundings, they also explored nature to develop a visual language for unique forms of artistic expression. In the next section, the depiction of actual places became an important subject in Chinese art, including such famous ones as West Lake in Hangzhou and Tiger Hill in Suzhou. Artists over the ages left numerous works on such places, revealing what inspired them and how they interacted with the sites. As for the seasons that form the subject of the third section, the artworks here demonstrate how the ancients observed changes in weather to grasp the pulse of time, forming views and methods for describing them along the way. The fourth one shows how the ancient Chinese exploited their vivid imagination to interpret realms of the unknown in the world around them, taking elements from nature to serve as auspicious symbols and literary allusions. Finally, the fifth section on humanity and nature reveals the ways people co-existed with nature by learning from, transforming, and incorporating it in daily life, demonstrating considerable wisdom and innovation in the process.

The fine quality and large quantity of works on display in this exhibition not only provide in concrete terms a microcosm of views on nature in Chinese art, they also reflect changes in the attitude of people over time, how the Chinese sought harmony with their surroundings, and the ways they made nature a part of their lives. With the philosophy and wisdom that these precious artifacts encapsulate, modern audiences can appreciate something else beyond their innate beauty. More importantly, people perhaps can also find new ways for a balanced and sustainable development of and with nature.