The lacquerware restoration room
This box, used by Emperor Qianlong to store his poems, is mostly intact.
The restorer is working on repairing the corners of the box, which were subject to more wear and tear as the box was moved around.
Since the edges of the box are curved, he can’t use machine to polish it as it would likely cause damage to the box.
This is lime mixed with pig’s blood, a common way to prepare paint in ancient Chinese architecture.
This cup of “blood paint” has been stored in Mr Min’s refrigerator at home for about half a month.
You can imagine what it smells like: pig’s blood after two weeks. No wonder everyone wears a mask.
Raw lacquer is added to it to make it harder.
The mixed paint and lacquer is used to restore the se, the thousand-year-old musical instrument.
They have a Chinese lacquer tree outside the restoration room.
The textile restoration team
Today they work in the Shoukang Palace.
The screen is more than 3 metres long.
All the characters on the screen are the same—“longevity”.
More than twenty thousand characters were sewn onto the screen.
It was a present to Emperor Kangxi, for his sixtieth birthday.
Emperor Kangxi was the longest-reigning emperor in Chinese history—61 years.
The gift was from his children and grandchildren. Each of them had written a poem for Kangxi.
This was written by Yinzhen, Emperor Kangxi’s fourth son. He would later become Emperor Yongzheng.
They have moved the restoration work here because such a big project requires the collaboration of several teams: textile, lacquerware, wooden articles, and gems inlay.
Kesi, which means “cut silk”, is a technique used in Chinese silk tapestry. It was often used in making clothes for the emperors and empresses.
In ancient times, common folks were banned from using kesi since the Ming Dynasty.
According to a news report , there are less than 200 people in the country who still know how to make kesi tapestries.
This imperial screen used by Emperor Kangxi was auctioned for over 80 million Hong Kong dollars in 2006 (about 10 million USD).
The gems inlay restoration room
One of the lions on the box is missing.
The staff is trying to use seashells to recreate it.
The lion on the right has to be reproduced on the seashell on the left.
Each of the many missing pieces on the rosewood chest was restored this way.
This looks like Tang Sanzang, the monk in Journey to the West.
Work here is often complicated and slow-going.
Working with images that are no larger than the size of a thumbnail.
It takes a long time for new recruits to adjust and adapt to the extremely slow pace here, especially for the younger generation, who are used to having everything done with the click of a button. Someone who’s worked here for five years is still considered relatively new.
The wooden article restoration room
Mr Shi has lived next to the Palace since he was three years old.
His father used to work in the Palace Museum. After he retired, Mr Shi took over his father’s job in 1982. He’s been here for over thirty-five years.
This date tree was planted here by his father’s generation.
Meanwhile, Mr Min from the lacquerware team is preparing for a lacquer harvest in the outskirts of Beijing.
He follows professional lacquer harvesters.
Natural Chinese lacquer.
A V-shaped cut reveals the sap.
They go where the lacquer trees grow, which means sometimes they have to climb up cliffs.
A professional lacquer harvester can tap sixty trees in five hours.
A small amount of sap has been collected at the bottom of the plastic cone.
An entire night’s work yields about 400 grams of sap.
The lacquer harvesters have a saying, “Walk a hundred miles, make a thousand cuts, and you get 500 grams of lacquer.”
Such good-quality sap can be used to make clear lacquer.
The sap is originally white in colour. Oxidation turns it red, then dark brown.
The same tree sap will end up with different colours, depending on time and the location it’s stored.
This makes it difficult to create a colour that perfectly matches the se.
They have to apply a coat of lacquer that’s slightly darker than the original colour on the se, so that after a year or two of drying and oxidation, the colours will gradually match.
The wooden article restoration room
The statue is missing part of its finger.
It’s repaired with gypsum.
Their work results go on exhibition for the 90th anniversary of the Palace Museum.
Each year, the Palace Museum hires about forty to fifty fresh graduates.
A tree-lined path, with apricots and birds and cats as company.
Or a sterile environment, everything in black or white. Sealed and air-conditioned, cut off from the outside world.
Which office do you prefer?