Palace museum offers insights into Southern Song Dynasty

Wu Huixin
After years of restoration, the Deshou Palace Museum will open its doors to the public, offering unique insight into the culture, art and life of the ancient Song Dynasty.
Wu Huixin
Palace museum offers insights into Southern Song Dynasty
Ti Gong

The Deshou Palace Museum will display the rich culture and antiques of the Southern Song Dynasty.

After years of construction, the Deshou Palace Museum will finally roll out its welcome mat for visitors.

Although the official opening date has not been set yet, Shanghai Daily was invited to explore the palace, taking a firsthand look at some of the displays and exhibits.

Hangzhou was the capital during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), one of China's golden eras with a thriving economy, technology and culture. Present-day Shangcheng District was the location of the imperial Deshou Palace.

Unlike Beijing with the well-known Forbidden City, Hangzhou lacks a venue to showcase the ancient city's glory days, as Deshou Palace was almost entirely destroyed over the centuries, with only a few remaining relics and foundations.

In 2001, local archaeologists began excavating the ruins of the palace where Emperor Gaozong (1107-1187) of the Southern Song Dynasty lived after his retirement in 1162.

Emperor Gaozong established the Southern Song Dynasty when the royal court retreated to Lin'an, today's Hangzhou, as the northern half of China fell to invading Jurchens who established the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) in the occupied territory.

Gaozong passed the throne to his son, Emperor Xiaozong (1127-1194), who ordered the construction of the palace dubbed the Little West Lake, after his father said he liked to tour the West Lake. However, locals were unhappy that they were forced to clear the area for his visit.

Gaozong moved to the Deshou Palace in 1162. The father and son lived there for around 40 years. During its heyday, the palace had an area of nearly 110,000 square meters with over 270 rooms, spanning from Jixiang Lane in the east, Wangjiang Road at its south, Zhonghe Road at the west, and Meihua Tablet to the north.

"The Southern Song Dynasty is considered the pinnacle of ancient Chinese art with exceptional aesthetics. The palace was the reflection of the art with top-tier poetic garden design," said Wang Zhengyu, vice director of the Hangzhou Institute of Archaeology.

The institute has dug the remaining relics and foundations four times. The imperial street, empress pavilion, royal ancestral temple, gardens, city walls and pipes were discovered after being buried underground for centuries.

Palace museum offers insights into Southern Song Dynasty
Ti Gong

The foundations of the palace are highlighted based on archaeological excavations.

"We've excavated about 7,000 square meters of the original palace over 20 years, discovering over 8,000 artworks and relic fragments," said Wang. "Only a few historical archives recorded the Deshou Palace, but the excavations help modern-day people learn more about it."

However, Hangzhou's wet climate and complicated geological hydrology were difficult tests for archaeologists who had to refill excavation sites instead of leaving them exposed.

Now inside the palace museum, protected foundations and demonstrations are highlighted based on archaeological excavations.

The venue has been equipped with high-tech ventilation systems, water storage facilities, pile-spanning waterproof curtains and protective covers. It serves as a platform to display soil layers and excavation sites.

In efforts to display the palace in its original form, designers have used digital facilities to replicate the original buildings. Three-dimensional interactive installations, digital lights projection systems and augmented reality have been used to present the centuries-old palace in a dynamic way.

The rebuilt ground buildings embody the essence of the Deshou Palace. The dynasty's royal court gave priority to the humanities. They turned to people's inner emotions and adopted a minimalist artistic approach, apparent in a large number of preserved artwork. As such, the venue replicated the dynasty's wooden architecture style, capturing the classical aesthetics of the time.

Designers also carved out a space to display Song Dynasty porcelain, paintings and handicrafts.

The exhibition halls portray the dynasty from different angles, with rituals, costumes, food, artwork and daily utensils.

One hall has been converted into the royal court where the emperor met imperial officials.

"We aim to display the 153-year dynasty within the 3,000-square-meter exhibition area. So we selected about 210 sets of antiques from that era, showing the Song Dynasty culture through porcelain and ink-wash paintings," said Shi Yunshu, curator of the Deshou Palace Museum.

The palace museum is the only preserved Southern Song Dynasty imperial palace site which provides other cities with insight into protecting excavation sites in wet climates.

Address: At the intersection of Wangjiang and Zhonghe roads

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