It’s not easy repairing a clock with so many moving parts.

The base of the clock, which has already been fixed a few days earlier, broke down again simply because of a change in humidity in the room.

Most of the clocks in the museum are one of a kind.

It’s next to impossible to find replacement parts.

Making the clock tick is just one part of the restorer’s work.

They have to try to restore all of its functions, like repairing this bird’s wings so they can move.

Currently, only one of its wings moves.

Searching for the source of the problem. Checking every component. It might take days just to know what’s wrong, before repair work can be carried out.

It’s not a job for the restless type.

Doing things fast may actually make them worse instead of better (something I should reflect on more often).

In the ceramics room, staff from wooden articles come here to lend their expertise.

Poor horse is missing its tail.

The staff got into a discussion about the differences between Han Dynasty horses (bigger, fatter) with Tang Dynasty horses (slimmer, with longer neck). They debate over whether the tip of the horse’s tail should be touching the ground as the horse is galloping.

Fixing a ceramic horse requires knowledge from: history, chemistry, physics, and of course, biology.

And there’s also the hard-to-quantify aspect of aesthetics: how to repair and restore the horse, so that the modifications/changes/additions complement, instead of overwhelm, its original characteristics.

First they try to recreate the leather strap across the horse’s chest. But they have no idea what the original strap looks like.

Then they have to figure out how to fix the missing tail.

Time to consult other horses.

Does the strap look something like this?

Should the tail be short and pointing upwards, like this?

But much uncertainty remains.

Perhaps it’s best to just let the horse be, like Venus de Milo’s missing arms.

The Forbidden City has close to 1,000 buildings scattered on 72 hectares of land. Even the staff who work here have not fully explored the palace.

That’s why sometimes they, like other tourists, walk around the palace with a camera strapped to their neck.

Sightseeing break over, the staff return to the ceramics room.

Visit to other horses in the museum has given them inspiration.

The leather strap take shape.

The museum is planning to move part of its collections to a facility in the District of Haidian, about 30 km from the Palace Museum.

You can tell the different areas of expertise of the staff by looking at their fingers.

Those who work in bronze ware have rust, while those who work in lacquer ware have paint on their fingers, and those who work in paintings and calligraphy have glue.

Much more space than the workrooms back at the museum.

This giant birdcage-like thing was used in winter, when the imperial household warmed themselves near a fire. It helps to trap the flying embers and keep them away from the emperor and his concubines.

Their shapes have been distorted.

The staff will try to restore their shapes by referring to old documents.

They use a dryer to warm up the metals.

This process seems simple, but is filled with challenges. They can’t make the temperature too high, which would melt the paint. But if the temperature is too low, the metals wouldn’t be softened.

Some of these look easier to fix.

But others are much harder.

Sometimes the staff also go on business trips.


They are here to attend a conference on timepieces.

It’s a rare opportunity to see watches and clocks from different time periods and other places.

Mr Wang from the Palace Museum seems extra interested in this timepiece, shaped like a warship.

He also meets with a timepiece collector, who’s been to over 1,000 auctions.

There are plenty of pocket watches in the Palace Museum, but not a lot of them have gone through repair.

The collector shows off his prized possessions, one of which, he says, belonged to the daughter of Queen Victoria.

But of course, the collection at the Palace Museum is much larger.

Back in the ceramics room, another Mr Wang has moved on to applying paint.

Meanwhile, an exhibition on Ming Dynasty imperial china is being held in one of the palaces.

The restored pieces from the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen are displayed alongside collections in the Palace Museum.

The porcelain to be used at the Imperial Palace would have to go through a strict selection procedure.

Any piece that was found to contain even the slightest imperfection would be rejected, smashed, and buried in Jingdezhen.

These rejected pieces have been found and repaired.

Now they meet up with their counterparts which had been sent into the Imperial Palace.

These rejects are now precious artefacts.

The museum guide jokes that if one of those bowls is not broken, it’s worth an entire building.

Curious visitors look at the bowl up and down, but couldn’t see any problems with it.

The museum guide explains that its colouring is off. The red coat of paint looks slightly black.

The museum is closed to the public on Mondays. One of the perks of working there is to ride through the empty palace as if you own it.

Visitors or not, the staff still work hard.

This silverware looks much better after being polished.

But when it comes to this bronze piece, the stuff run into a problem.

Soldering has failed.

At the same time, the timepiece restoration work hits a snag as well.

How to make the animals on the clock come back to life.

The timepiece display room always attracts a lot of visitors.

Restoration work is not just all chisels and dryers and hammers.

Google glass.

Used for photo-taking and recording, when the staff have both their hands occupied.

After 8 months of painstaking work, the musical clock is finally restored to its former glory.

While in the ceramics room, another horse has arrived.

And its rider—a terra cotta warrior.

The bronze ware team also gets a new task—a golden receptacle that was used to store hair belong to Emperor Qianlong’s mother.

 The results of their hard work go on display at the 90th anniversary exhibition.

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About fmiswriting

One out of 1.4 billion voices.

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